"RED EYES"
A Sailor Moon Fanfic
By Bill K.

e-mail billk57@earthlink.net

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Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2001 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha
and Toei Animation, and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is
(c)2001 by Bill Kropfhauser.

As always, for anyone familiar only with the English dub:
Usagi/Queen Serenity=Serena Ami=Amy Rei=Raye Makoto=Lyta
Minako=Mina Mamoru/King Endymion=Darien Chibi-Usa=Rini
Setsuna=Trista Haruka=Amara Michiru=Michelle Dimando=Prince Diamond
Naru=Molly

My thanks to the Sailor Moon Expanded Website for help with the timeline.

Finally, Haruka and Michiru are NOT cousins.
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Once upon a time, in the year 2980, there lived a beautiful queen in a
crystal palace. Though at one time she had been clumsy and a bit of a crybaby,
a combination of age and experience had served to mature her into a wise and
gentle ruler. She created a utopia called Crystal Tokyo and governed it with a
kind heart and a powerful crystal that could turn her thoughts into reality.
Her friends and her husband, all of whom knew her in the days when she had been
the clumsy crybaby, often marveled at how, like her name of Serenity, she had
blossomed into a woman that they could respect and love and follow to the ends
of the Earth.

Then she got pregnant and it all went out the window.

"Ohhhh!" groaned Serenity, trying without much luck to find a comfortable
spot on the recliner she sat in. "That brat is going to pay for these last
eight months for the rest of her life!" She rested her hands on her swollen
abdomen and felt the fetus kick, almost in response.

"Serenity," Rei said quietly, struggling to keep her legendary temper in
check.

"And Endymion," she muttered, oblivious to her companion's attempt to calm
her. "Well he just better take up solitare, because he's never touching me
again!"

"Serenity," Rei repeated through clenched teeth.

"This is the longest eight months I've. . ."

"Oh, knock it off, Meatball-brain!"

Serenity stared at Rei, as if for the first time. Rei instantly
recognized the watery eyes, the quivering lower lip, and the wide-eyed look of
shock at Rei's anger that she'd seen so many, many times in the past. When they
were younger, a fountain of tears would have ensued. However, Serenity was
older now, stronger and more sure of herself.

"I should have known you'd be the last person I could expect sympathy
from," Serenity replied petulantly.

"Unbelievable," muttered Rei. "A thousand years of progress undone in
eight months. Serenity, promise me you'll never get pregnant again."

Before she could answer, Ami glided in. Dressed functionally in a dark
top and pants, she carried a hand-held medical computer with her. Her glasses
were perched on her button nose, making her look at once both sage and cute.

"Honestly, I think you two will be fighting on your deathbeds," Ami said,
shaking her head but not completely unamused by the situation. "Rei, you know
what pregnancy can do to a woman. Between the physical discomfort and the
hormonal imbalances, it's no wonder she's irritable."

"Thank you, Ami," Serenity said, mollified.

"Besides," Ami smirked, ruffling Serenity's blonde top, "since when has
our Usagi ever missed a chance to complain about something?"

"Traitor," Serenity muttered.

Ami twittered a sweet little laugh. "Come on, your Majesty, it's time for
your check-up."

"Stop calling me that!" fumed Serenity. "I hate that name!"

"Calm down. It's only three more weeks now, Serenity. Rei, could you
excuse us?"

"Hey, what if she's born on my birthday! Wouldn't that be just such a
wonderful birthday present? Three weeks," Serenity sighed wistfully. "Three
more weeks and I'll be holding Chibi-Usa in my arms." Her lips pressed together
trying to smother the smile growing on them and a tear trickled down her cheek.

"That's right," Rei smiled playfully, reaching out to wipe the tear away.
"Then we'll be trading one immature handful in for another one."

"Rei Hino, you are so mean to me," Serenity said, as she had replied for a
thousand years, until the words had become almost a term of endearment between
the two. She smiled warmly as she said it.

Rei touched the tear, then suddenly drew her hand back as if the thumb had
been bitten. She stared at the digit in alarm.

"Rei?" Serenity asked, perplexed. "Is something wrong?"

"Um, I don't know," Rei replied vacantly. "I, um, guess I got a static
shock from the carpet." She recovered quickly. "A thousand years pass, you'd
think we could do something about that." She turned to go and forced herself
not to hurry to the door. "Well, I'll leave you to Ami's cruel mercies. Um,
could you get Minako to sit with you after she's done? I've got a few things I
have to attend to."

"Rei," sighed Serenity, "just because I'm a blimp doesn't mean I can't
take care of myself. I don't need a baby-sitter."

"Serenity, we've been over this," Rei replied in exasperation.

"I know we have," Serenity mimicked, "but you won't ever listen to my
siiiide." Giving a tired exhalation, Serenity grinned. "OK, I'll call Minako."

Rei nodded and exited the room. Instantly she was down the steps, headed
for the palace temple that Serenity had set up for her. It resembled the
insides of the old Hikawa Shrine - - Serenity had done it on purpose when she
had the palace built, specifically as a present for Rei - - and Rei often found
time to meditate there, perform services or practice spiritual healing. "Just
to keep my hand in," Rei had alibied. The gift was greatly appreciated and Rei
made it a point to tell Serenity in private.

It also came in handy when Rei had a premonition of danger or a vision of
some coming threat. This was one of those times. In that instant she'd touched
the teardrop on Serenity's cheek, an image had burned itself onto her brain.
She had seen a statue of Queen Serenity, kneeling placidly, clasped hands to her
breast. It was cast in white marble and carved with such attention to detail
that it could double for the Queen. Around the statue was black, an absence of
light that made the white marble stand out so much more brightly.

In an instant, a pair of glowering red eyes formed behind the statue,
looking down on it with a malice Rei could have recognized even if she weren't
psychic. The glare sent chills down her spine.

Suddenly, the statue took on a red hue, as did the background. It hadn't
changed - - a bright scarlet light had projected onto it. The light grew in
brightness and intensity until it nearly obliterated the sight of the statue.

Then the statue exploded.

Changing from the purple dress she'd been wearing, Rei donned the white
and red robes of the Shinto Priestess she had been and always would be. Pushing
back the ancient sliding door of bamboo wood lattice covered in white paper, she
entered. Various religious icons and artifacts decorated the room, but she was
concerned only with the fire pit in the center. It sat, cold and ancient, on
the floor. Burned from its many uses, it waited patiently as Rei padded into
the room, her mumbled prayers to the gods vibrating ever so slightly its
horizontal metal slats.

With solemn respect for the gravity of the ritual, Rei knelt down before
the pit. Wood and straw were placed in the pit and lit. She fanned the flames
as she had a thousand, thousand times before, feeding and nurturing the flame
until it roared and crackled its strength back at her. Then the Priestess
slipped into a light trance, murmuring her prayers and channeling the voice of
the flame into her mind, trying to draw out the answers to her questions, trying
to divine the future. The woman lost track of time and her surroundings as she
concentrated on the voice of the flame.

And she saw a man. She saw his face, dark and gaunt. She saw the
violence and hatred in his soul. She saw his name, spoken with his own lips as
if to taunt her. And his eyes - - they were red as the fire and staring at her
with grave intent.

"I thought I'd find you here," she heard Ami say distantly. It was enough
to throw her concentration off and Rei's mind came crashing back into her. The
flame's voice was just a crackle now.

"How did you know?" Rei asked, annoyance in her voice.

"After all the years we've been together?" Ami replied calmly. "I know
the look you gave her. You saw something. Is Serenity in danger?"

"Yes," Rei replied, then amended it. "Possibly. I was trying to learn
more. How's she doing?"

"Remarkably well, in spite of her protests to the contrary. This is such
a textbook pregnancy that it's almost eerie. I'm beginning to wonder if she's
willing it to be normal. Is it some new enemy or an old one back for more?"

"It's a new one," Rei replied softly. "But why now, of all times?"

"Enemies often have remarkably bad timing. We know it's not Nemesis.
Dimando and the others aren't due for another five years." Ami looked down,
disappointed in the turn of events. "Please let me know what you see. I'll
tell Makoto and Minako to be on guard."

"What about Endymion?"

"We'll let Makoto or Minako tell him," Ami grinned. "Why should we do all
the work?"
* * * *
Endymion entered the sitting room where Serenity had been spending the
majority of her waking hours the last few weeks. He smiled when he remembered
her term for it: "My cell, with Rei acting as my grumpy jailer." For all the
awe Serenity inspired in him, he was glad there was still some of the impish,
fun-loving, irresponsible Usagi left in her.

When he found the room empty, there was a moment of panic in him. That
was quickly shunted aside when he realized he had no premonition of danger, no
call in the back of his mind warning him of imminent peril to his love that he
received going back to when she was Sailor Moon and he was Tuxedo Mask.
Apparently his very persistent wife had finally worn Rei down and won her
release from "prison". That was good. He loved Rei for her concern, but her
protectiveness of Serenity bordered on obsessive sometimes, particularly now.

Walking to the balcony, he stepped out the door. The sight of Crystal
Tokyo in all of its modern opulence and tranquil beauty greeted him. Normally
it was enough to hold his attention, but he was looking for someone specific.
His keen gaze surveyed the garden. If Serenity had managed to escape the
palace, that's where she would most likely be. However, as he surveyed the
grounds and saw no trace of her, he became perplexed.

"Hmm," Endymion thought to himself. "Not here. I hope she hasn't had
another bout of nausea."

Then a movement by the gate caught his eye. A familiar flowing white
skirt topped with even more familiar odangos and flowing ribbons of blonde hair
trailing the woman told him what he needed to know. Seeing the long, thick
blonde hair of Serenity's companion told him why she wasn't in the garden.

"Minako," he nodded. "That explains everything."

"Oh, Minako!" sighed Serenity as she waddled out into the street of
Crystal Tokyo's resplendent promenade, the main thoroughfare leading from the
palace to the city's merchant district. "It feels so good to breathe real air
instead of prison air!"

"You were taking on a pallor," smirked Minako. "What got Rei the Warden
out of the way?"

"I don't know and I don't care!" chuckled Serenity. Then she sobered.
"Do I really have a pallor?"

"I don't know," shrugged Minako, looking her over. "Maybe it's just
because all the light's being absorbed by your huge body."

Serenity glared. "Are you saying I'm fat?"

"No, I'm saying you look like a whale in a ball gown."

"Are you ever sorry you never grew up?" she scowled.

"Nope. Never." She grinned at Serenity and flashed a "v" sign. "So has
Ami figured out when Chibi-Usa's going to drop yet?"

"She said three weeks," Serenity said with a mixture of relief and
discomfort. "And as heavy as she's been feeling lately, I'm wondering if she'll
come with a matching set of luggage."

"Maybe she's got Luna P in there, too," chuckled Minako.

Just then, Minako spotted Serenity's attention caught by something. She
followed the line of her gaze and saw a man sitting at a café table. He seemed
troubled and was staring into his cup as if trying to divine answers from it.
Without another word, Serenity eased passed her and shuffled with some
difficulty to the man. Minako followed her, curious and on a different level
ready for any sort of trouble that might arise.

"Hello," Serenity offered the man, along with her warmest smile. Her
bright blue eyes were soft, wide and interested. The man looked up, attracted
only by the sing-song tone of her voice. His misty eyes didn't seem to focus on
who she was for a few moments. "You seem sad. Can I help?"

"Y-Your Majesty!" he gasped, slipping from his chair to one knee. He
remained there, averting his eyes.

"Now, now, none of that," she replied, her voice disarmingly gentle. Her
hands locked around his arm and pulled him up to his feet with mild insistence.
"I really prefer Serenity, if it's all right with you. What's wrong? You seem
so sad and lonely. Please forgive me if I'm prying, but I was concerned."

"You're," he stared incredulously, "concerned about me?"

"Yes," she replied, as if he'd just uttered the silliest thing imaginable.

Her touch was soft and warm, like the first time he'd ever been touched by
a woman who loved him. He looked into the deep blue pools of her eyes and saw a
comfort zone where he would never have to be afraid. Suddenly he felt that if
he told her his troubles, she could make them all better.

So he told her. He told her of his son of just five years. The boy's own
inquisitiveness had placed him in a perilous situation and that situation had
claimed his life. He told her about the emptiness in his heart, the loss he
felt and the pain that he experienced every time he thought of his boy. He also
confessed to the wedge that the child's death had driven between him and the
boy's mother. How she blamed him for allowing the boy to run free and how each
of them blamed themselves for living when he didn't. The burden just tumbled
out into Serenity's lap.

At the end of his ramble, he felt embarrassed for confessing so much to
the Queen of Crystal Tokyo. She wouldn't care as deeply as he did. How could
she? On top of all that he'd gone through the past year, now he had embarrassed
and humiliated himself before the Queen. Sheepishly he glanced up.

Tears streamed down the Queen's face. Tears for him. He glanced to her
companion, unable to comprehend. The companion was sympathetic, but wasn't
experiencing the genuine sorrow that only someone intimately involved in the
tragedy could experience. Yet Queen Serenity did. He could see it plainly in
her watery blue eyes.

"That's so sad," she choked, clasping his hands firmly in hers. The touch
of her made him feel better. Being in her presence made him feel better, but he
knew it wouldn't last. "Perhaps I can help you."

"How?" he asked, a hint of desperation in his voice, for he desperately
wanted to hope. "Can you bring him back?"

"No," she replied, her eyes seeking the floor. "That's one of the few
things I can't do," and she and her companion exchanged glances. "We all have a
fixed time on this planet. For some, the time is shorter than for others. It's
not fair, but the end of life is as much a part of life as its beginning. I had
to learn that the hard way. You can't blame yourself for out-living your son.
It may not seem like it, but it was his time."

"You're right, of course," he murmured dejectedly. "But it doesn't make
it hurt any less."

"I know," he heard her whisper. Her hands remained clasped over his. "I
can help you with that."

At first he thought it was just the comfort he felt that someone actually
cared about the pain he was feeling, let alone someone of this stature. Then he
looked up and saw the mark on Serenity's forehead, the crescent moon glowing
yellow. It was bathing him in light, a light only he saw. And the light was
warm and soothing, and it seemed to wash over his body, filling his emptiness
with something indescribable, save that it made him feel so much joy. And in a
second he knew what it was: hope for the future.

"Thank you," he said, noticing just then that he was smiling.

"You'll still think about it. You'll still miss him. You'll always miss
him." She patted his hand. "It just won't hurt now." Serenity sighed and
seemed to slip out of a second personna. "Can we order now? I'm hungry."

"My wife!" he said desperately, clutching at Serenity's hand. "Could you
do this for her?"

"Of course," Serenity said, her warm smile bright and glowing. "Bring her
to the palace. Don't force her; ask her. We all have to choose our own path.
But if she wishes, I'll ease her pain the same way I eased yours."

Minako had been surveying the crowd of onlookers with a mixture of
amusement and alertness. Serenity always drew crowds, but particularly when she
was in "messiah" mode. Not that Minako could blame them, but it was still
amusing to see the look of wonderment on their faces.

And suddenly Minako was gone and in her place was the experienced warrior,
the woman who had been facing danger and honing her skills since she ventured
out at fourteen as Sailor V. Sprouting through the audience was the barrel of a
weapon. A second passed, but in that second Minako acted.

"Move, Serenity!" she shouted, shoving her queen off the carved stone
bench, even as she pushed to her feet. A crimson beam of energy shot out from
the barrel, passed over Minako's upper arm and struck the carved stone table.
Where the energy struck, the stone exploded. Minako felt a fragment of the
table strike her in the right shoulder, but she rolled with it and came to her
feet.

As she glanced to her right and saw Serenity on her hands and knees on the
promenade pavement, Minako's wand was already out.

"Venus Millenium Power Make Up!" she shouted. The transformation power
washed over her like a wave, seizing her, mutating her into Sailor Venus. As
she transformed, her eyes were on the weapon the entire time. As her form
locked into Sailor Venus, she realized the weapon was going to fire again and
she'd be too late to act to stop it.

The crimson beam lanced out again, but was intercepted by an energy
barrier. Venus allowed herself a glance to her right. Serenity was still on
her knees, but her arms were out and her hands were up. She had erected the
barrier using the power of the Silver Crystal. With the knowledge that Serenity
was protected, Venus started forward, her hands in the air.

"Lovely Angel Projection!" she shouted, aiming her hands at where the
weapon had been. She was ready to blast the weapon into atoms with the
precision energy blast that was this incarnation of Sailor Venus's greatest gift.

As she aimed, though, a rocket pack ignited within the crowd. Panicked
spectators stumbled back as one of their own blasted into the air. He was male,
about thirty, with thin black hair and a black jumpsuit. In his hand was a
compact energy rifle. But her vision snapped from the weapon back to his face.
She locked onto his eyes. They were red - - blazing red - - Satan red.

Venus tracked his path with her hands as the energy blast erupted from
her. However, the rocket pack proved faster and carried the assailant beyond
her beam more quickly than she could adjust the trajectory. When he was beyond
her range, she ended the blast. As she turned to Serenity, Venus opened her
communicator and advised Makoto of the situation.

At once, Venus felt her heart fall. Serenity, eight months pregnant and
stuck on her knees, was bending over the stranger they had befriended. A chunk
of the table had been kicked up and struck him in the head. Venus had seen
death enough times to know it when she saw it; Serenity's anguished sobbing over
the corpse only confirmed it. The woman knelt down next to Serenity and grasped
her around the shoulders.

"Don't cry, Serenity," Venus offered, knowing the request was futile. "It
was his time. At least you were able to give him some peace before he died."

"Um hmm," Serenity nodded tearfully. "But now his wife weeps for two."

And the gathered watched as the Queen of Crystal Tokyo wept for a
stranger. And they wept for her.
* * * *
The air car glided onto the grounds of the palace. Makoto, at the
controls, gently set the craft down on the pad behind the palace. She turned to
her passengers.

"You're sure you're all right?" she asked Serenity.

"Yes, Makoto," Serenity replied with practiced patience. "Just a couple
of skinned knees. The only reason I'm going to let Ami treat them is I'm too
big to reach them myself." She unbuckled the belt and pushed to rise up.

"When's the due date? You look huge." Instantly Makoto caught herself.
"Um, but beautiful! Tastefully huge! No one can pull off huge as well as you
can!"

"Thank you, Mako-chan," Serenity grinned. She pushed up again on the
seat. "It's, umf, three weeks."

"Trouble?" smirked Minako, standing over Serenity and enjoying watching
the woman struggle to rise from the seat. Serenity glared up at her.

"Help her up!" Makoto chided Minako, smacking her playfully on the back of
the head. "Honestly, don't you have any class?"

"I have tons of class," sniffed Minako as the two women helped Serenity to
her feet. "I just didn't want to throw my back out."

"See if I name my baby after you," Serenity said, wrinkling her nose at
the woman.

As the trio descended the ramp, Endymion and Ami were waiting for them.

"Serenity," Endymion gasped, moving up the ramp to intercept her. "Are
you all right?"

"Yes," she nodded, stricken by the concern and worry in her husband's
face. She melted easily into his arms. "I'll let Ami check me over, but I feel
fine. Well, as fine as any woman eight months pregnant can feel. That poor
man, though."

"Yes," Endymion agreed quickly. "Did you get a good look at the man who
shot at you?"

"No. Maybe he wasn't even shooting at me."

"He was shooting at you," Minako affirmed. "I got a good look at him, and
the weapon. Makoto and I will start looking into it."

"Check with Rei in the temple," Ami added. "She got a premonition this
morning that Serenity was in danger. She may have divined more information."
Ami moved to Serenity, her medical computer out.

"Ami, I'm fine, really," Serenity protested.

"You let me be the judge of that," Ami replied.

"I don't understand it. Why would anyone want to kill me? What have I
done?"

"I don't know," Makoto said, her eyes fixed and steely, "yet. C'mon,
Minako, let's get cracking."

As they entered the palace, Luna and Artemis scampered up.

"Serenity, I only just heard!" Luna gasped. "Are you all. . ."

"I'M FINE!" fumed Serenity and waddled off, Ami and Endymion trailing
behind.

"Well!" Luna huffed. "Pardon me for caring!"
* * * *
Rei hurried down the hall to the computer room of the palace. So hurried
was she, she hadn't even changed from her priestess robes. The echo of her
sandals flapping on the palace floor marked her passage to anyone listening.

Situated in the palace of Crystal Tokyo was one of the most sophisticated
computers in the world. The original system had been installed by Endymion
himself and peripherals and add-ons from around Japan and around the world had
been added to it. Once installed, Endymion had assembled the largest database
on Earth, among other things. Any piece of information that still existed was
stored there and it was often consulted by other people on the planet.

Rei slid open the door to the computer room and found Minako and Makoto
there. They were searching the identification database.

"Serenity's in danger!" Rei told them urgently. "She's being stalked by a
killer and I know who it is!"

"Would it be him, by any chance?" Minako asked, gesturing to the screen.
On it was the picture of a man about thirty with thin black hair, a sallow jaw
and penetrating brown eyes.

"How did you know?" Rei gaped. "The fire only just revealed him to me!"

"He's already made an attempt," Makoto murmured, reading the man's vital
statistics. Rei gasped in alarm. "She's all right. Minako was there to
protect her."

"He attacked the palace?!"

"No, we were in a little café on the promenade," Minako told her.

"You let her out of the palace?!"

"Rei, you can't wrap her up in an anti-contamination force bubble until
she delivers," scowled Minako. "She's a human being. Humans need human contact
- - especially her."

"Oh yes, what was I thinking? What business do I have trying TO PROTECT
HER?"

"We're all trying to protect her," Minako said, turning her attention
dismissively to the face on the screen. "Some of us just have a little
perspective."

"And some of us are just reckless!"

"That's him, except for the eyes," Minako said, ignoring Rei. "They were
red."

"Red?" Makoto asked.

"Contacts?" Rei offered.

"Possibly," Minako mused. "But why use infrared vision lenses in the
daytime?"

"How about we ask him when we catch him?" Rei replied.

"Works for me," Makoto said. She resumed reading the assembled data on
the man, drawn from news reports, census and government data, and sources
Endymion didn't care to identify. "Ichiro Kuramoto, thirty-one, no current
known address or occupation. Hey, that's the guy that's been publicly
criticizing Serenity and the whole concept of Crystal Tokyo!"

"What's he got against paradise?" Minako wondered.

"He says humans weren't meant to live in a utopia. He says humans have to
continue to work and strive against adversity or they stop evolving and grow
stagnant - - that utopia is just a slow, pleasant death."

"That sounds familiar," Rei commented.

"Yeah, it sounds a lot like what Michiru said when she and Haruka left.
Some people just can't handle peace and prosperity."

"Guess you can't please everyone," shrugged Minako, studying the bio. "So
this Ichiro guy decided to take things into his own hands. But there's nothing
in his bio about any access to armaments and tech, or any ordinance design
education. But that weapon was some sort of sophisticated molecular disruption
beam - - pretty high tech stuff."

"He could have stolen it," Makoto offered. "The rocket pack, too."

"Yeah, or he could be part of a larger conspiracy."

"No," Rei said flatly. "I didn't get any sense of that. It's his idea
and he's working alone."

"Well, that's fewer things to guard against," Makoto said. "You get any
feel for where he is?"

"I get a soft impression of someone else. He may have someone he's living
with, but I don't think anyone's helping him."

Out of ideas, the pair looked to Minako, who had always been the de facto
leader of the senshi.

"We have to track him down," she replied. "His flight trajectory seemed
to be headed to the north. I'll nose around a little. Makoto, see if Endymion
can come up with any ordinance thefts that could be linked to our guy. It might
narrow the search. Rei, stick to Serenity. Try to get Ami to stay with you two
as much as possible. The more people around her, the less likely this guy is to
try again."

"I won't leave her side," Rei replied.

"Serenity's going to love that," grinned Makoto.
* * * *
"You check out fine, Serenity," Ami proclaimed. "You should try to get
some rest, though."

"I'm not tired, Ami," Serenity protested.

"Just the same, you shouldn't over-exert. . ."

"Ami!!" fumed the woman in frustration. "I know you mean well. You all
mean well. But I'm not a china doll; I'm just pregnant! You're all going to
smother me with kindness!"

Ami raised her hands and backed away.

"Serenity, Ami's just. . ." Endymion began.

"I know," she smiled wistfully, slithering her hand into Endymion's. "But
you're all forgetting that I'm a grown woman who can think and do for herself.
I'm not silly little Usagi anymore. I know you're all trying to protect me,
because that's your job and moreover it's what you all want to do. Just back
off a little, please!"

"Understood," Endymion nodded. Ami looked on sheepishly. He started to
leave, but Serenity tightened her grip on his hands.

"I also know you desperately want to slip down into your monitor room and
track down this man who attacked me. The other senshi are working on that and I
trust their competence. Besides, I have something else planned for us that's
more important."

"Usako," Endymion began to argue, using a name he rarely used anymore in
public.

"Mamo-chan," Serenity replied in kind, digging in her heels, "we have a
duty to a very old and very dear friend and that duty takes precidence over my
petty little troubles."

"Petty little troubles?" Endymion scowled, shaking his head. "What am I
ever going to do with you?"

"You're going to love me and protect me, just like you always do,"
Serenity said coyly. She extended a hand and Endymion helped her up, then
turned to Ami. "When Rei comes looking for me, tell her I'm with the king and
that I'm in no immediate danger. And if she insists on fussing about, tell her
she needs to get a man and settle down."

Ami tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. Serenity and Endymion joined
hands. They were enveloped by a shining silver light and vanished. Ami's last
image of Serenity was of her grimacing and holding her abdomen.

"Chibi-Usa's kicking a lot lately," mused Ami. "She must be in a hurry to
get out. Then again, patience never was one of her virtues."

Serenity and Endymion materialized in a weird vista covered with mist.
The sky, if that's what it could be called, was a deep indigo and decorated
with odd oblong rectangles. A door stood a short distance away and a shadowy
figure stood guard before that door. As they advanced on the figure, she turned
to them and pointed her large key-shaped staff at them in warning.

"Halt," Sailor Pluto demanded. "Identify yourselves."

"It's us, Pluto," Serenity said gently.

"King Endymion. Queen Serenity," Pluto said. She withdrew the staff and
knelt at their feet. "You grace me with your presence."

"One of these days I'm going to find a way to get you to stop doing that,"
Serenity scowled. It didn't last and her mouth turned up into a smile.

"How are you, Pluto?" Endymion asked politely.

"I am," Pluto said as she rose, choosing her words carefully, "unaffected
by passing events. I am glad to see you." She turned to Serenity. "My queen,
how do you bear your wonderful burden?"

"Setsuna, can't I be Serenity just once?"

"No, my Queen," Pluto said, the corners of her mouth turning up ever so
slightly, "but I am grateful for the sentiment."

"You outers," huffed Serenity. "Ami says three weeks." She cupped her
swollen abdomen with her hands. "It feels like Small Lady may have a mind of
her own in this matter, though."

"She is her mother's daughter and always has been," Pluto replied softly.

"Setsuna," Serenity said. "When it comes time for the birth, I give you
leave from your duty to be there. I know how much Small Lady has meant to you
and will mean to you in the future."

"My Queen, you honor me," Pluto said, genuinely touched. "Though I am
concerned about leaving my post. . ."

"I think we can risk it," Endymion replied. "This is a special occasion
for all of us."

"I shall be there gratefully," Pluto nodded.

"Great," beamed Serenity. "Would you mind if we spent a little time with
you? I could fill you in on everything that's happened around the palace."

"I am privy to all that has happened in the world since the dawn of time,
my Queen," Pluto advised her.

"Oh, yeah," Serenity said.

"But," Pluto continued, grasping the Queen's hand in her own, "I could
stand to hear a different perspective on those events, and I would certainly
enjoy the company."

"Well," Serenity began, heartened by Pluto's response, "last month, Minako
played this joke on Rei. . ."
* * * *
Rei stared out the balcony window, surveying the city. Somewhere out
there Ichiro Kuramoto was plotting the death of her sovereign, savior and best
friend. She parted the doors a crack and let the dying day's breeze waft over
her. Clearing her mind, Rei hoped some sort of psychic impression would find
her. The power was stronger in her these days, stronger by far than in her
youth. Many were the times a stray impression had sought her out, drawn to her
psychic nature.

However, all she felt was the overwhelming contentment of the citizens of
Crystal Tokyo, and of the respect and love they felt for Serenity. It wasn't
unanimous - - public opinion would always be divided on anything - - but
Serenity was very popular among the people and Rei could sense that.

Then she felt a familiar presence. Turning, she saw Serenity and Endymion
materialize in the center of the room. Ami was by her side immediately,
discreetly checking with her medical computer, although not discreetly enough to
avoid annoying Serenity.

"Do you need me for anything else?" Endymion asked indulgently. Serenity
turned and caressed his cheek.

"No, Sweetie," she smiled. "Thank you for visiting Setsuna with me."

"You were right. It was good to see her again."

"I assume you'll be down in the batcave?"

"Why Your Majesty, are you mocking me?" Endymion asked, his eyebrow arched.

"You call me 'Your Majesty' again and I'll do more than mock you,"
Serenity grinned menacingly. They kissed and Endymion took his leave.

"All I need is a man, huh?" Rei huffed loudly, arms folded over her chest.
Serenity put her hand to her mouth to cover her laugh. "Sometimes I wonder why
I defend you."

"Because you don't have nearly as much fun arguing with Minako," Serenity
chuckled.

"And how is Setsuna?" Ami asked.

"The same. Annoyingly the same. Out of all of us, Setsuna's probably
changed the least. I think she's always going to be that way, too." Serenity
grimaced and held her abdomen.

"Did she kick again?" Ami asked, scanning with her computer.

"Would you get that away from me!" snapped Serenity. "I'm just feeling a
little tired from lugging this pink-haired lead weight around."

"Well," Rei said patiently, grasping Serenity by the hand and around the
waist and guiding her toward the bedroom, "why don't you lay down and rest like
we've been telling you? I promise I'll wake you in time for dinner."

"Promise you'll help me up?" Serenity asked.

"That depends on whether you're nice to me."

"And if I'm not? I am Queen around here, you know."

"Then you can lay there until you go into labor."

"REI!!"
* * * *
The next day found Rei and Makoto sitting with Serenity. Through
breakfast Serenity had been in good spirits with both her husband and her
friends. But not long after Endymion left, Usagi had grown nauseous. Now Rei
and Makoto were standing guard at the bathroom door.

"She's been in there twenty minutes," Rei remarked.

"Serenity?" called Makoto. "Are you all right?"

"Getting there," Serenity called back.

"Anything come up?" Rei asked.

"No. I don't think it will now."

"That's good." She turned to Makoto and the woman resumed speaking.

"So Endymion and Artemis managed to track down a weapons theft at Konesha
Heavy Industries. They didn't even know about it. They didn't want to give him
the specs on the weapon, either."

"So he hacked in and got it anyway," Rei concluded.

"Yeah. And it's a nasty little monster, too. You heard what it did to
that stone table. I don't even want to think about what would happen if that
energy struck a human body."

"Why do people like Konesha have to make stuff like that anymore?"

"Because not everyone's seen the light," grinned Makoto. "Paradise wasn't
built in a day and it takes even longer for people to buy into it."

"Where was the theft?"

"Sapporo warehouse. He probably transported the stuff in himself."

"So we still have no idea where he is?"

"No, but you know Endymion. He's got optical feeds everywhere. This
guy'll be spotted sooner or later." Makoto glanced at the door. "Serenity?"

"I can't get off the seat!" they heard her sob. Rei and Makoto grinned at
each other and went inside to help her. Moments later the trio was in the
drawing room.

"It's so stuffy in here," moaned Serenity after a few minutes. "Can we at
least go out into the gardens?"

"No!" scowled Rei.

"Rei!!" huffed Serenity.

"Come on, hon', you know Rei's right. Until we catch this guy you're
safer inside the palace. Remember, you're not just gambling your own life
here."

"I know," Serenity sighed. "I've known for eight months and for months
before that. She's the only reason I haven't gone out to track this man down
myself." Rei flashed her a stern look of exasperation. "If this man has a
dispute with me, I want to face him and have it out. We can talk it out and
come to a mutual solution."

"Yeah, he shoots you with that energy weapon and you explode," Rei replied.

"Rei, how many years have we known each other?"

"I know, you have to try. I'm not saying your wrong. I'm just saying he
might be beyond the point of listening."

Just then there was a beep, followed by a shaft of light on the armrest of
Serenity's recliner. It elongated into a blue tinted hologram of Natsumi
Hasegawa, one of the people who coordinated Queen Serenity's appointments and
itinerary. The cute young woman bowed to the Queen.

"Your Majesty, we've tracked down the widow of Soun Hajimi," Natsumi
informed her. "She was greatly touched by your condolences and thanks you. She
has agreed to meet with you at one p.m. tomorrow at her home."

"Thank you, Natsumi. That's excellent news," Serenity replied. Natsumi
bowed and the hologram dissipated. Rei and Makoto stared at her quizzically.
"She's the widow of the man who died yesterday in the attack." Rei was already
shaking her head. "Don't even start, Rei. This person needs me and I. . ."

And just like that the outside wall of the room exploded inward. All
three women were thrown to the floor. As soon as she had her wits about her,
Rei scrambled over to Serenity to shield her. Only then did she search for the
cause of the explosion.

Makoto was already on her feet, wand in hand. Beyond her, hovering in the
sky, was a man in a black jumpsuit and a lower face mask. He had thin black
hair and they both didn't need to see the energy weapon in his hands to guess it
was Ichiro Kuramoto.

"Jupiter Millennium Power Make up!" shouted Makoto. As the transformation
to Sailor Jupiter took hold of her, Ichiro had the weapon up and aimed at her.

"Mars Millennium Power Make Up!" yelled Rei. The transformation washed
over her, but in that instant she was afraid she would be too late.

"Mako-chan!" shrieked Serenity as a pulse of crimson energy came at her.

In an instant, Sailor Mars saw Serenity's hand stab out near her right
shoulder. A burst of silver energy shot out from her and deflected the pulse
just feet from Sailor Jupiter, driving it into the far wall. The moment it
touched the wall, it exploded outward. The tremor shook the room, but Jupiter
kept her feet. Gathering her power, Jupiter gave her adversary an icy glare.

"Jupiter Electromagnetic Pulse!"

Concentrated electromagnetic energy shot from Jupiter's hands, leaping to
the circuitry of the energy weapon. It began to crackle with electric arcs and
sizzle ominously. When it became too much for him to handle, Ichiro shoved the
weapon away from him. It fell a mere five feet before the weapon's energy
conversion circuitry overloaded and it exploded.

Seeing the advantage lost, Ichiro's rocket pack flared to life and he
arced away. Sailor Mars, though, was not prepared to just let him escape.

"Dragon's Fire Blast!" she yelled. A thick concentric horizontal column
of flame launched from her, aimed directly for the fleeing assassin. Only at
the last moment was he able to evade it. By then he was out of range. Cursing,
Sailor Mars turned back to tend to Serenity.

"Serenity?" she asked, kneeling next to the woman.

"I'm all right," she nodded. "But I think you two were about to tell me
how much safer I would be by staying in the palace and not going to see that
woman tomorrow."

Mars and Jupiter both sighed in frustration and defeat.

"You would be," Mars persisted, "but obviously you're not going to
listen."

"We're coming with you, though," Jupiter advised her sternly.

"Of course," Serenity said. Then she grinned. "I may be stubborn, but
I'm not stupid."

"I'll debate that," muttered Mars. Serenity responded, as she had for a
thousand years, by sticking out her tongue.

In one of the neighborhoods to the north, Minako was wandering around.
Since yesterday, she had been roaming the area, observing, occasionally asking
questions of the denizens of the area, using her senses and her instincts to
guide her to her quarry. It was a method that had served her since her times as
Sailor V.

For several moments she and the other people of the area were looking up
at the signs of battle coming from the palace. A pall of fear had dropped over
Minako. She hadn't anticipated their quarry would try so brazen an attack; none
of them had. Guilt and worry choked her. Had her efforts been too little too
late? Then she saw the attacker driven off by a flame blast, undoubtedly from
Mars. Keenly she watched his flight path as it carried him over her, then
descended in an area not far from her location.

"Gotcha!" she hissed, pumping her fist.

Minako tore through the streets of the north section, racing around and
between pedestrians like a broken field runner. As she ran, she kept an eye on
the descent of the assassin. He ducked behind a building just around the
corner. Sensing victory at hand, she pivoted around the corner of the building.

"What?" she gasped.

Around the corner was the boundary of Naru Park, a green space Serenity
had dedicated years ago, naming it after her childhood friend. Minako stumbled
into the street, looking around for some sign of her quarry. There was nothing,
no sign of him. He wasn't in the air or on the ground. She ran up to the
ornate antique twenty-first century replica fencing, searching the trees in case
he was hiding. She saw nothing. Instantly her senshi communicator was out.

"Minako to Palace! Endymion, come in!" she said. A holographic replica
of Endymion grew from the communicator.

"Endymion here," the hologram said.

"I'm on the southeast corner of Naru Park! Get a fix on me, then scan the
area for a man with a rocket pack!"

"I'm already scanning that area, Minako, but I'm not seeing anything," the
hologram reported.

"But he was going down here! I don't understand it! It's like he just
disappeared!"

"Hmm," the hologram mused.

"Is Serenity OK?"

"Hmm? Yes, she's fine. Minako, I want to check on something. Unless you
want to stay out there, I'll send an air car for you."

"Go ahead. Not much more I can do here." She thought a moment. "Um,
send the car to Nakamura's, OK? I need a double milkshake right now."

Ami watched Serenity telekenetically repair the walls in the drawing room
using the Silver Crystal. She fretted about Serenity overdoing it, but kept
still so as not to annoy her. Mars and Jupiter watched silently as well. The
rubble floated up to the holes, held by invisible hands, and melded together.
The walls coalesced, shimmered, and were solid.

Serenity stepped back, admired her work - - then promptly collapsed
backward. Ami and Jupiter caught her and eased her to the recliner.

"Whew!" Serenity gasped, looking surprised. "I guess this would qualify
as overdoing it, huh?"

"I didn't want to say anything," Ami said. "I know we've been annoying
you lately. . ."

"And I know I've been pretty grouchy lately - - don't say a word, Rei - -
and I'm sorry," Serenity said. "I know you all worry about me and I am grateful
for that."

"It's OK," Mars said, stroking Serenity's hair. "We'd rather have you
alive and grouchy any day." She kept stroking Serenity's hair. "I don't
understand how you can be so cool about this, though. Aren't you scared for
Chibi-Usa? I know we've all been through stuff like this a thousand times, but
don't you get scared for her?"

Serenity sighed. "I get scared for her walking across the room. I worry
about what I eat, what I drink, what I touch, what I smell, wondering if it'll
somehow affect her. I worry that my worrying will affect her. But I can't show
it the way crybaby Usagi used to do. I have responsibilities. I have an entire
kingdom of people who look to me, who I have to be strong for."

Ami rubbed Serenity's arm. Mars held her hand while Jupiter hovered.

"Guys," Serenity said. "Tell me honestly. Am I going to be a good
mother?"

"Only you'd think of a question like that," grinned Mars. "Serenity, I
have so few memories of my own mother. I was so young when she died. But the
one strong impression I do have of her was of her loving me. No matter what I
did, she loved me unconditionally. I think Chibi-Usa's going to have that same
impression when she's big, because you'll be the same type of mother my Mother
was."

"I do remember my mother clearly," Jupiter said. "As for how good a
mother she was, I think there's two big tests you can use: Does your child want
to be like you and does she miss you when you're gone. Well I missed her
awfully when she died and, even though I was more of a son to her than a
daughter, I always wanted to be like her. And ten years from now if you ask
Chibi-Usa the same question, she'll give you the same answer."

"I think those are very good criteria," Ami told her. "I always wanted to
be like my mother and I missed her terribly when she left me. But then, I had
the greatest mother who ever lived. Serenity, you'll never be the greatest
mother who ever lived, but I think you have an excellent chance to be number
two."

"Oh, you guys!" wailed Serenity, tears overflowing. She gathered them
into her arms and squeezed them tightly to her.
* * * *
Luna was there to meet Minako's car as it pulled up. Minako stepped out
and smiled at her.

"Endymion would like you to meet with him in his monitoring room," Luna
told her. "He's found some answers to some of your questions."

"Smarty," scowled Minako. She followed Luna into the bowels of the palace.

Endymion's monitor room was a large room deep in the interior, away from
the more public portions of the palace. It was filled with banks of monitors,
each screen with a different visual output or data display. Here Endymion had
ether-links to his own vast database and to any other in the world. Plus,
through satellite link ups, laser optic downloads and robot observation drones,
he could observe selected sites around the world and every outdoor inch of
Crystal Tokyo. If Serenity was the heart of Crystal Tokyo, Endymion was its
self-appointed eyes and ears.

"Hi, Endymion," Minako chirped, bouncing in. "You still not able to get
'I Love Lucy' on this setup?"

Artemis glared, but Endymion's mouth betrayed a smile. "Not yet, but I do
have another clip you might be interested in."

He pressed a spot on the panel. The picture on the monitor changed to the
corner of Naru Park Minako had been.

"Did you spot him?" Minako gasped.

"Just watch," Artemis smiled.

Out of the upper left corner, Ichiro appeared, flying toward the park.
Then, like disappearing behind a curtain, he vanished - - but there was no
curtain.

"What was that?!!" Minako goggled. "Did this guy steal a spatial warp
generator?"

"Figures you'd think of that," muttered Artemis.

"Lower your sights a little," Endymion replied. "I think it's more likely
he has some sort of light refraction field set up."

"So he was there all the time?"

"He might have been."

"THAT RAT!" fumed Minako. Then a thought struck her. "So why doesn't he
use it all the time?"

"Oh, there could be several reasons," Luna replied. "The power
expenditure of an invisibility field alone makes it prohibitive."

"Plus there's the bulk of a refraction generator," added Artemis.

"And the problem of being able to see," Endymion suggested.

"All right, all right," Minako nodded. "So is he still there or did he go
somewhere?"

"Well, we're not sure," Endymion replied. His fingers dancing over the
control panel. The picture changed again to another view of the park. "But
take a look at this guy."

On the screen was a man walking down a path. He was moderately tall and
wiry, but had a bald head and wore an optic sensor visor over his eyes. His
dress was ordinary - - slightly shabby, in fact.

"A disguise?" Minako asked, staring at the figure. Endymion pressed the
panel and the image jumped from the monitor to become a three dimensional
hologram. "He's the right height and build."

"Or perhaps this is the real man and Ichiro Kuramoto is the disguise,"
offered Luna.

"Or perhaps this is just an innocent man in the wrong place," Endymion
shrugged. "I can't find any picture of him entering the park, but that's not
conclusive."

"It's a start," Minako mused. "It's more than we had. I assume your
spy-eyes followed this guy home?"

"You assume correctly," Endymion said, pressing the panel. A data display
jumped up, framed beside the frozen footage of their suspect. "The dwelling is
owned by one Ryoko Suzuki. There's no record of anyone else living there,
though he could be a guest, and I can't get a match on the man in the picture
with anyone in my database."

"I'll check him out," Minako nodded. Endymion printed out a copy of the
information and handed it to her.

"Oh, and Minako, could you take Rei with you?" Luna asked.

"You think **I** need a back up?" Minako said immodestly.

"It wouldn't hurt," Artemis scowled.

"Besides, it's a way to get her away from Serenity before those two
strangle each other," Luna added, unable to conceal the smile on her lips.
* * * *
The sun was nearing the horizon when the air car Venus and Mars were
riding in pulled up at the end of the block. The neighborhood was a block of
family dwellings, littered with playing children and friendly fellow residents.
Venus started to get out, but Mars held back.

"You know what's going to happen the moment those kids spot us, don't
you," Mars said.

"Sure," smiled Venus. "They're going to mob us. It's the price of
celebrity."

"A price you don't mind paying," Mars scowled. "But two Sailor Senshi
getting mobbed in the street by dozens of children isn't very conducive to
stalking a potential killer."

"Well, do you want to do this as a normal human?" Venus countered.
"That's got risks, too. Unless you're not sensing our boy here."

Mars concentrated a moment.

"I can't tell if he's here right now - - not from this distance - - but
he's been here. And it's Kuramoto. The vibes are the same."

"So scratch the innocent bystander possibility," Venus replied, her mind
working overtime to plan strategy. "Personally, I'd rather not have to
transform again to take this guy, but it's your call. I'll go either way."

An exhalation of frustration escaped from Mars.

"Go as senshi," she said finally.

They exited the car. It only took a few moments for one of the playing
children to spot them. A gasp of excitement rose from the fifteen children
playing in the neighborhood and they descended on the two senshi almost at once.

"You take the front door," Venus said, smirking. "I'll take the rear and
flank him." With that, she vaulted over the fence of the nearest dwelling and
raced to the rear.

"But - - Venus!" sputtered Mars as the children swarmed her. "Ohhh!"

"Are you really Sailor Mars!" gasped one of the children, eyes wide.

"Y-Yes, honey, I am."

"I love you!" sighed another, about six. She wrapped her arms around
Sailor Mars' knees.

"Um, kids! I'm, uh, I've got official business," Mars said, trying to
extricate herself from the mob. "I-I can't talk to you right now."

"Aw, please?!!!"

"Can I have your autograph?"

"Can you meet my mom and dad?"

"I love you!"

"Minako," Mars silently fumed, "I am gonna GET you for this!"

Venus eased along the back of the dwellings, her target never leaving her
sight. Cover was easy to maintain by using the various gardens that were
planted behind the dwellings. Never breaking her stealthy advance, Venus gained
the back of the Suzuki dwelling very quickly. Making no sound to betray her,
she advanced to the window and peered inside. It was a comfortably furnished
dwelling, decorated in a Japanese traditional motif. There seemed to be no sign
of life inside. Easing over, she tried the door, but it was locked and encoded.
Undaunted, Venus eased over to the next window, all the while keeping her senses
sharp for any sign of attack or discovery, or any clue that might aid her.

Mars finally extricated herself from the children. She took a step toward
the dwelling. The children followed her, boisterous and unruly. Instantly, she
whirled on them.

"SHHHHHHH!" she said, finger to her lips. Her emphatic tone silenced the
brood. "OK, you kids want to see me in action?"

They all very loudly assented, forcing Mars to quiet them again.

"Well you can, but only if you're quiet and only if you STAY HERE," she
told them. A few expressed disappointment, but a stern look silenced them.

Mars walked up to the dwelling and pressed the buzzer.

"Who is calling?" asked the computerized reception program in the lock
system.

"Sailor Mars, on official business of the Royal Family," she replied. "I
wish to speak with Miss Suzuki."

Instantly there was a deafening roar, followed by a jarring of the
dwelling. At first Mars thought a bomb had detonated somewhere inside the
structure. Then she saw a figure lifting up into the sky. It was Kuramoto,
flying away with his rocket pack. Racing a few steps away from the dwelling,
Mars shot up her hands to use her latest attack, then thought better of it. One
of the older attacks would be more useful here.

"Mars!" she spat, her hand snapping down to her side, "Flame Sniper!"

The flaming bow materialized in her hand. As she raised it to fire, a
fiery arrow grew from the bow to her right hand. She took confident aim at the
rising figure and fired.

As the arrow sped toward its target, the man turned and brought another of
the energy weapons to bear. A burst of crimson energy shot out and engulfed the
flame arrow. It exploded in mid-air harmlessly. Mars drew back to fire again,
but realized that their quarry was too far away. Instead, she dissipated the
bow and engaged her Sailor Senshi communicator.

"Mars to Endymion!" she gasped. A holographic image of Endymion appeared.

"Endymion here," he replied.

"We flushed Kuramoto out! Do you have him on your monitors?"

"Yes. I'll track him from here and call you if he goes to ground."

Just then Venus opened the front door of the dwelling. She was pushing a
young woman with black hair and delicate features ahead of her, the woman's
torso wrapped in Venus's Love Me Chain. Immediately Mars noticed the woman's
most prominent feature: her red eyes.

"Miss Suzuki?" Mars asked.

"Yes," Venus said, "and judging by her reaction when she tried to bail out
the back door and ran into me, she's been harboring Kuramoto willingly."

"Let's have a look inside," Mars said, ambling up to the dwelling.

"So, all the pronouncements of Queen Serenity that the rights of the
individual are sacred evaporate like the morning dew at your merest whim!"
Suzuki sneered.

"Serenity means everything she says," Mars growled at the woman. Then her
mouth turned up smugly. "I, however, am not Serenity. If you don't like the
way I do things, complain to Serenity. I'm willing to risk her punishment if it
means keeping people like you from killing her."

The search of the dwelling was brief. Almost immediately Venus uncovered
a camouflaged access door leading to a small room. In the room were several
rocket packs and another of the energy weapons, its power pack removed and on a
workbench.

"He's been here a lot," Mars commented. "His psychic presence is all over
this place."

"You won't stop him!" Suzuki boasted. "Ichiro is smarter than all of you!"

"Yeah, whatever," Venus replied.

"Your Serenity is poisoning this world!" Suzuki continued. "Poisoning all
the people who live on it with her dilution!"

"She's trying to bring peace and harmony to this planet!" argued Mars.

"Harmony's for the weak! Harmony and capitulation are the opiates of the
dead and dying! Only those who fight and strive are truly alive!"

"Hey, if you don't like the way Serenity's running things, why don't you
just leave?" asked Venus.

"Ichiro and I are Japanese! This has been our home for generations upon
generations! Why should we leave? If she wants to found her kingdom of
weaklings and fools, let her leave! No, she forces us to live like this, in our
ancestral home! Our ancestors are all shamed by us! But we will not tolerate
it any longer! Serenity will leave or Serenity will die!"

"Not in your lifetime," replied Mars. She moved into the room to retrieve
the stolen technology.

"No!" roared Suzuki. "Ichiro is a great man! I believe in him! I won't
let you destroy his dreams!"

She wrenched away from Venus and lunged for Mars. Venus snatched at the
woman and caught her by the hair - - then, to her surprise, found a hunk of the
black hair in her hand. Mars caught the woman and shoved her back. Suzuki
stumbled to the floor. She was about to get up, but Venus held her down with
her free hand. As she looked down, Venus could see a patch of scalp where the
hair in her hand had been.

"Mars, look at this!" she gasped, waving the hair at her.

"Yuck!" gasped Mars.

"Something's wrong here! I'm calling in a HAZ-MAT team!"
* * * *
"Are you two all right?" Endymion asked the holographic representations of
Venus and Mars on his control panel.

"Hey, we're professionals," Venus replied immodestly. "Nobody got hurt
unless Kuramoto hurt himself flying out of that window."

"And I can't work up a lot of sympathy if he did," Mars added. "The
HAZ-MAT team had the Suzuki woman sent into a hospital to check her symptoms."

"Did your spy eyes get any fix on where Kuramoto went?" asked Venus.

"Calling that information up now," Endymion replied. He twisted one of
the jewel knobs on his panel. "He headed back for Naru Park and disappeared
into the refraction field."

"Any chance he came out of it in disguise again?"

"Doesn't look like it, unless he's disguised as a eight-year-old girl."

"I knew I should have dismantled that thing," fussed Venus.

"So now what?" Mars asked. "Go over to Naru Park and start looking from
the refraction field?"

"That sounds like as good a plan as any," Endymion told them. "I'll look
into those materials he stole as a possible source for the physical ailment the
Suzuki woman had. I'd hate to think Kuramoto's got some communicable disease on
top of everything else."

"Oh, wouldn't that be lovely," muttered Mars. She broke the communication
and turned to Venus. "Let's head over to the park. If nothing else, we can
take down his refraction field and give him one less hole to scurry into."

"I'll be along in a moment," Venus said as she strutted out the front
door. Outside, the neighborhood children mobbed her and, ever the celebrity in
her own mind, Venus ate it up.

"Sure," Mars scowled, shaking her head, "NOW you want to deal with the
kids."
* * * *
Arriving at the park, Mars got out of the air car. She concentrated,
trying to pick up some psychic impression of Kuramoto or some premonition of
danger.

"I've already scouted around," Sailor Jupiter said, walking up. "The
place is clean as far as I can tell."

"He's been here, though," Mars said, eyeing the place warily. "I get a
lingering impression of him."

"Well we knew that from the video links," Venus replied. She turned and
flashed a "v" and a toothy smile at one of Endymion's hovering observation
drones. When she turned back, Jupiter and Mars were glaring at her. "Sorry.
You know I can't resist a camera."

"Just as long as you don't start singing," Jupiter sighed.

"Have you penetrated the refraction field yet?" Mars asked.

"What's wrong with my singing?" Venus bristled.

"Yeah," Jupiter answered Mars. "There's a little storage shed in the
corner of the park where he stashes his rocket pack. There's three of them in
there, all empty."

"So where does he go?" Mars asked.

"What's wrong with my singing?!" demanded Venus.

"Ah!" Jupiter exclaimed, raising a finger. "There's also an old drain set
in the grass. It leads to the old underground sewer system."

"I bet if we check the Suzuki dwelling, we'll find a link to the sewer
system that he installed," Mars nodded.

"Hmph," sniffed Venus, stalking off toward the park. "Peasants."

"This guy is crafty," Jupiter said.

"Well he'd have to be to avoid Endymion's surveillance drones and get as
close to Serenity as he has twice," Mars reasoned. "How about we take away a
few more of his toys?"

"I was just about to suggest that," Jupiter smiled.

Jupiter and Mars walked over to what looked like the corner boundary of
the park. When it looked to Mars like they were going to walk into the wall,
instead they continued on. Inside the field, she saw the shed and the real
boundary. Venus was rooting through the shed.

"Supreme Thunder!" Jupiter said, calling down a lightning bolt onto the
compact refraction generator sitting next to the shed. The lightning struck the
generator and instantly it began sparking. Though they couldn't tell from
inside the field, outside it began to waver, then winked out completely,
revealing the assembled senshi inside.

"Venus, what are you looking for?" asked Jupiter.

"His disguise kit," Venus replied, continuing her search. "Remember the
time he walked away from the field and the spy-eyes followed him to Suzuki's?
He was in disguise."

"Maybe he took it with him," offered Jupiter.

"Maybe," Venus said. "But it's a loose end. I don't like loose ends."

"It's better than split ends," grinned Mars.

Venus burst out laughing very loudly. In fact her response was so
inordinate to the level of humor of the joke Mars made that the raven haired
girl grew embarrassed, as did her brown haired companion.

"Can we get out of here," Mars scowled. "I don't know what's creeping me
out more - - her or Kuramoto's lingering aura."

And as they returned to the air car, an elderly man sitting on a bench not
fifty yards from them watched their departure. He was frail and ancient and
looked nothing like Ichiro Kuramoto.

But his red eyes burned with hatred as he watched them.
* * * *
"Endymion."

Endymion glanced at the chronometer on his board and saw it was nearly ten
p.m. He grimaced in frustration and called up his auto-defense program.

"I didn't realize it was this late," he alibied to Luna. "Is she mad?"

"Serenity? I can't say. We've both been occupied with other things. But
knowing her as I do . . ."

"Just let me get things on automatic." He pressed a few more spots on the
panel, then stood up. Stretching to silence the protest of his stiff hips, he
turned to the black cat framed in the doorway. She followed him as he walked
down the hall.

"You seem to spend more and more time in there, your Majesty," Luna
observed cautiously. "Is there some trouble between you and Serenity?"

"No." He seemed reluctant to say more.

"Pardon my asking," Luna said uncomfortably.

"It's all right. You're just concerned. There's no trouble. I just,"
and he seemed to falter for a moment. "I don't know. I thought we'd always be
madly in love, but now I begin to wonder if we're together only because we know
we're needed together. The universe needs Serenity and Endymion together, but
do Serenity and Endymion need each other anymore?"

"Well, if you're not certain, I certainly can't speak to the subject,"
Luna said. "If it makes any difference, I know Serenity still loves and needs
you."

"There are times I agree with you, and yet," he continued. "It feels like
the pregnancy has put a hold on our marriage. It's almost like my daughter's
come between us."

"How ironic. She used to complain all the time about feeling like
Chibi-Usa was coming between her and you."

"Maybe I'm just being selfish. I'm happy she's pregnant, but sometimes I
can't help wondering if she needs me anymore." He smirked. "And it's been kind
of hard to get near her with Rei on guard."

Luna laughed.

"And I suppose I've been obsessing about her safety, even before the
assassination attempts. I know there are people like him out there, fanatics
who oppose her philosophy or people who lust after her power. And we all know
what's coming."

"Indeed," Luna replied. "I'm aware of it, too. It's much like living
with the Sword of Damocles hanging over you."

"And yet she takes it in stride," Endymion mused aloud. "How can you not
love a person like that? And yet, how can a person like that need me? Maybe I
am guilty of obsessing unconsciously. I've always had this need to protect
her - - I just don't know if she needs me protecting her anymore."

They arrived at the door to the royal chambers.

"I know Serenity as well as anyone can," Luna told him. "Don't feel left
out. She has enough room in her heart for her friends, for a baby, for an
entire kingdom of people, and for everyone else who's not a part of Crystal
Tokyo. She certainly has room enough for you. And being obsessed with
protecting her isn't a sin, so long as it doesn't come at the expense of her
need for YOUR unconditional love. I'll leave you two alone now."

"Thank you, Luna."

"Not at all, your Majesty. I only wish Artemis would listen as easily as
you do."

Endymion closed the door softly as he entered. He spotted Ami on the
balcony with Serenity just as Ami spotted him. A fleeting look of reproach
colored her face before it was covered over with pleasant neutrality. They
nodded as they passed and Endymion came up behind his wife.

"I'm sorry," he said gently. "I lost track of time."

"I understand," she replied. She didn't look at him, but he heard in her
voice that she'd been crying. "I realize it's hard to be attracted to someone
as fat and ugly as I am."

Endymion sighed and beat down his swelling anger with logic.

"You're not fat and you're not ugly," he told her with forced patience and
knelt down next to her. "The fault is mine. I'm overwhelmed with trying to
protect you. I worry about you constantly. Kuramoto may be just the tip of the
iceberg. And we all know the Black Moon Family is lurking out there."

"I don't care about any of that," Serenity said, her fingers running
adoringly along her husband's cheek. There were drying tear tracks down her
cheeks. "I don't care if I die tomorrow as long as your arms are around me
today."

"I do understand," Endymion said, gathering Serenity's soft hands in his
and pressing them to his lips, "I do. But I'm greedy, my love. I'm willing to
exchange a few hours in your arms today to make sure you're still in my arms
tomorrow and forever."

Serenity looked down. "I don't mean to be needy. I just can't always
help it. Life's just never been easy for me without you, but moreso now. I get
paranoid flashes of me raising our child alone and I look for you to reassure me
and . . . and you're not there."

"I'm here now. And I know you need special attention and I always haven't
fulfilled my end of things. I'll try to do better." He wiped a tear away with
his thumb. "Have I ever failed you before?"

"No. I believe you. I'm just being immature."

"Don't beat yourself up for it. It's been a night for immaturity." He
stood up and extended his hand. "It's late. Come to bed, Serenity. If you'd
like, the three of us can cuddle a little before we go to sleep."

Serenity's eyes were locked on the floor. "Cuddling would be nice," she
said, the corners of her mouth turning up. She extended her hand toward
Endymion's.
* * * *
Despite her late hours, Ami was up promptly at six as she always was.
After an efficiently spent time cleaning, she sat down at her computer screen
and called up the cases at the hospitals while she ate breakfast. She did this
every morning, being supervisor of Crystal Tokyo's multiple free health care
facilities. As the screen booted up, a message box flashed informing her of an
urgent communique for her. She opened it up and saw her director of Hazardous
Material Contamination Care.

"Good morning, Mizuno-sama," the man said. "A patient was brought in last
night by Sailor Mars and Sailor Venus. The patient had some very alarming
symptoms and I thought you should be advised. I've downloaded the patient's
file."

Serenity awoke reluctantly at eight, and again at 8:10, and for keeps at
8:17. She met Endymion coming out of the bathroom and exchanged kisses with
him. By nine she was dressed and ready for breakfast. Only then did Endymion
engage the robot server.

"You waited," she smiled. "How sweet. This isn't to make up for last
night, is it?"

"Partially," Endymion replied. "But it's good manners, too. Sometimes
familiarity breeds forgetfulness."

"Well I do appreciate it." Serenity glanced at her breakfast with
something less than relish.

"Are you sick again?"

"A little. I'll eat. Chibi-Usa tends to kick if I don't."

"She's her mother's daughter," Endymion grinned.

"Look out, world," smirked Serenity. "Still, I can't take too long. My
calendar is full today. Honestly, it seems like more people want to see me now
than did before I was pregnant."

"Novelty factor," Endymion commented. "That way they can tell their
grandkids they were with the Queen when she was carrying the Princess."

"What a cheap thrill," Serenity smiled modestly.

"If it tires you out, you could cut back."

"No," Serenity replied. "One of the fun things of being Queen is meeting
all these people and doing things for them. It makes me feel useful."

Just then the door chime sounded. Endymion opened the door and escorted
Ami in.

"I'm sorry for interrupting your breakfast," she told them, "but I've a
report you both should hear. It concerns the health of Miss Suzuki."

"Who?" asked Serenity.

"A follower of Kuramoto," Endymion replied. "Venus and Mars discovered
she was harboring him and his weapons."

"They didn't hurt her, did they?"

"No," Ami said soberly. "She's suffering from a condition that resembles
radiation sickness." Serenity gasped. "As far as we can determine, the energy
packs on the weapon Kuramoto is using leak energy. Anyone who comes in contact
with these packs are affected."

"What happens to them? Is it deadly?"

"Minimal exposure can result in mutation of certain pigmentation. This
explains the red eyes both Kuramoto and Suzuki have," Ami told them. "Increased
exposure can result in mutation or loss of hair, skin discoloration, or possible
mutation of the nails in the extremities. If the exposure continues for too
long - - well, this is just theory, because there are no documented cases, but
the theory is it could result in mutation of the major organs and death."

Serenity made a face and pushed her breakfast away.

"Sorry," Ami said sheepishly.

"How does Konesha justify distributing hazardous guns?" Serenity asked.

"Technically, they're not," Endymion answered. "They've had complaints
from several countries about their weapons' safety concerns. They deny any
problems, but have pulled them from sale and stored them until conclusive proof
can be obtained. And, of course, Kuramoto did steal them."

"This is terrible," Serenity whispered. "We have to find him! That poor
man is in terrible danger!"

"Serenity, that man is trying to kill you," Ami said.

"That doesn't make his life any less precious," she countered.

"The other senshi are doing all they can," Endymion said quietly.
Serenity nodded.

"I'd like to talk to the woman who was aiding him," Serenity said.
"Perhaps through her I can understand him a little better." She tensed
suddenly, as if experiencing a jab from below, then pulled her plate back.
"All right, Small Lady. Food first."

"And no sweets," added Ami. Serenity scowled.
* * * *
The morning was filled with affairs of state and meetings with individuals
of Crystal Tokyo and tourists and well-wishers from other lands. As usual,
Serenity found the former boring, but participated because it was her duty and
because she knew Endymion wanted her to do so. The latter was where she shined.
In spite of added security, at Makoto's insistence, Serenity made each visitor
feel at home during his or her short appointed time with the queen. She took a
genuine interest in each and every life, laughing and joking at her own
difficulties with the language and cultural barriers that still remained in the
thirtieth century, and radiating an infectious warmth that made most of the
callers fall instantly in love with her. During these times Endymion receded to
the background and simply admired his wife's natural facility with people. It
was a skill he had never possessed and never would.

Naturally there were those who sought to challenge Serenity's beliefs or
perceived politics, using the audience as a public forum. Rarely did she rise
to the bait; when she did, she deflected the criticism with a soft, conciliatory
word or a self-depricating comment that left the challenger looking like a
brutish bully for ever broaching the subject. If it were anyone else, one would
think the style calculated. However, this was Queen Serenity of Crystal Tokyo
and all who knew her knew few things in her life were the result of deliberate
calculation.

They broke once for lunch and again, reluctantly, at three when Serenity
became fatigued. She took a few moments to rest, allowing Ami and Makoto to
dote on her with outward impatience and inward gratitude.

"All right," Serenity huffed, extending her hands so Ami and Makoto could
help her up, "let's check on Rei and see how she's doing. If I know her, she's
been doing fire readings all day and she's probably got the temple all smoky."

"I'll check my monitors again," Endymion said. Serenity shot him a look
of mild disapproval. "I'll be on time for dinner, I promise."

She responded with an expression that warned of dire consequences should
he fail, then nodded her approval. Accompanied by Ami and Makoto, Serenity
ventured down to the temple. Rei was there to greet them.

"Did you feel us coming?" Ami asked.

"Um hmm," Rei nodded. Her face was flushed from prolonged exposure to the
heat of the fire. Dressed in her ceremonial robes, she was every inch the
priestess. "You can probably tell what I've been doing all day."

"Yes, we can," Serenity smiled. She reached up to Rei's face with her
handkerchief and dabbed away some of the sweat and soot from the woman's
forehead. Rei grinned at the intimate gesture between the two longtime friends.
"Did it help?"

"Not with anything concrete," Rei replied. "I couldn't get a location or
anything. I kept getting impressions of his passion for this. Serenity, he's
obsessed with killing you. It's consuming him. He's come to blame everything
that's gone wrong in the world on you."

"Fixation psychosis," commented Ami. "My guess would be a series of
setbacks or one single huge setback brought it to the forefront and drove him to
try to assassinate you. If that's the case, he'll try again. And he's not in a
state to be reasoned with."

"All the more reason to get this guy, quick," Makoto added.

"Any luck with the Suzuki woman?" asked Rei.

"Ami and I both tried talking, reasoning, and outright bullying to get her
to talk - - sorry, Serenity, but I thought the situation demanded it - - but
she's clamped shut. If she knows anything more about Kuramoto, she's not
talking."

"I'll talk to her," Serenity said. "If I can just get her to see I'm not
her enemy, maybe she'll open up."

"Going to use the old 'Magic Odango Charm' on her?" quipped Rei. Serenity
responded with playful scorn and a wagging tongue.

Crystal Tokyo had no prison. Queen Serenity didn't believe in them.
Grievances were mediated, either by Serenity herself or by someone hand-picked
by her. Violent offenses, and there were some still, were handled by Serenity
herself, by counseling usually - - Serenity had a way of being very persuasive,
particularly with men. If all else failed, the silver crystal was used to purge
the person of anger and violence, should they choose. Should they choose not to
partake, then they were banished.

Prisoners were held temporarily in the palace, locked in well-furnished
apartments until they could be dealt with. Computer controlled, the rooms could
be accessed only from the outside. There sat Ryoko Suzuki, outwardly defiant,
inwardly wondering what was to become of her. For if she didn't believe in the
benevolence of Queen Serenity, she had no right to expect mercy.

The door slid open pneumatically, framing Queen Serenity. Makoto was
behind her, eyeing Suzuki with solemn warning. Physically, Serenity was small
and fragile-looking, despite her distended abdomen. But she radiated an aura
that seemed to dwarf them all. It was the first time Ryoko had met Queen
Serenity in person and at that moment she began to question the wisdom of
Ichiro's quest.

Serenity sat down on the sofa not two feet from Ryoko, as gracefully as a
woman eight months pregnant could. She turned her blue eyes up at Ryoko and
smiled and Ryoko was instantly struck by how much the gentle smile reminded her
of her mother's smile.

"I'm sorry if I kept you waiting," Serenity said with a demeanor that
matched her name. "I don't get around nearly as fast as I did a few months ago.
Do you have any children?"

It wasn't what Ryoko expected to be asked. She mutely shook her head, all
the while keeping an eye on Serenity.

"Perhaps someday you'll meet that special someone," Serenity beamed.
"Maybe you already have. Believe me, pregnancy's a lot of work, but the end
result is almost always worth it." Serenity seemed to tense up for a bit and
her hands moved to hold her abdomen. "Honestly, sometimes I think she's dancing
in there."

"What is all this?" Ryoko asked suspiciously. "I know you didn't come
here just to talk about your baby!"

"Well, I didn't want to just jump right into it," Serenity shrugged.
"That seemed rude. But, since you brought it up, we'll deal with it. What can
I do to solve this problem? Your friend, um . . . Makoto, help me."

"Kuramoto," prompted Makoto.

"Kuramoto," repeated Serenity. "Please forgive me, I'm still very bad
with names. Your friend doesn't like the way I'm running things. How can I
accommodate him?"

"It's not just him," snapped Ryoko proudly. "It's everyone! People
weren't meant to live like this!"

"But they're happy," Serenity replied.

"They're contented," Ryoko countered disdainfully, "like a field full of
cattle. They're fat and lazy and weak. They shame their ancestors."

"But it's their lives," Serenity said. "If they choose to live in that
manner, we must respect that."

"And we choose differently! Ichiro chooses to live as his ancestors
lived, to be strong and to face life and master it on his own terms."

"And that excites you, doesn't it?" Serenity asked, a mischievous gleam
in her eye. "He must be a very impressive man to have captured the heart of an
intelligent woman like you."

Ryoko found herself blushing. "Don't change the subject! You don't seem
to understand our position!"

"I understand," Serenity said gently. "I may not always look like I do,
but I do. I'm not saying the life you and Ichiro choose for yourselves is
wrong. It's not; in fact, in some ways it's kind of noble. I don't want to
stop you. You're free to live your life your way anywhere you choose, just as
long as you don't hurt someone else doing it."

"But Tokyo is our home, too," Ryoko persisted. "We can't live our lives
the right way if you've perverted our home into a nest of weaklings."

"Well," Serenity began guilelessly, "pardon me for disagreeing with you,
but as long as you're with the one you love, anyplace is home."

Ryoko stared at her.

"I could be anywhere - - any city in Japan, any country in the world, any
planet in the universe - - and if Endymion was with me, I'd be home. Home isn't
a place. It's where your family is. It's where your loved ones are."

"I have no family," Ryoko murmured.

"But you have someone special," Serenity judged with that special knack
she had. Makoto watched her and recalled how she'd flashed this knack even
before gaining control of the silver crystal. "Two people can make a family."
She grinned and blushed. "And two people can make a bigger family if they
want."

Ryoko seemed to waver. Serenity's words had touched something inside of
her. Then her features hardened.

"No. Ichiro says our home is here. He says you're wrong. He says you're
making us all weaklings. What you do is not right!"

Serenity looked down. "Ah, I see Ichiro's real point. He doesn't want to
live his life as he sees fit. He wants everyone to live their lives as he sees
fit."

Ryoko glared at her.

"You're leading Japan to ruin!" she spat. "Ichiro will stop you! Believe
in that!"

"You're wrong," Serenity answered quietly. "Someday you'll see. When you
do, I hope we can still be friends."

She extended her hand to Makoto and her friend helped her up. Makoto
seemed anxious.

"You didn't even ask her where Ichiro is," the woman hissed.

"She wouldn't tell me if I had," Serenity replied. Turning to Ryoko, she
placed a hand on the woman's shoulder. Ryoko flinched away. "I hope you and
Ichiro can find the time to make a family some day. I've found that family is a
lot more important than petty political disagreements."

"So what do we do now?" asked Makoto.

"Let her go."

"What?" gasped Makoto. "Serenity, are you nuts?"

"If you think I'll lead you back to Ichiro . . ." Ryoko started the snarl.

"Actually I'm hoping you'll find a way to get word back to him," Serenity
said calmly, "and find some way to get him to stop this before someone else gets
hurt. Good luck to you."

With that, Serenity shuffled out the door, Makoto trailing her. The door
stood open. Ryoko stared at it for the longest time, trying to figure out what
sort of trap Serenity had laid for her.

And, from deep down inside her, a little voice posed the question of what
if Serenity was being genuine with her.
* * * *
"She just let her go," Makoto's holographic image said to Endymion. He
already had Ryoko Suzuki on his monitor, watching her as she made her way down
the promenade. "Honestly, I love her, but there are times when I just don't
understand her."

"You just have to have faith, Makoto," Endymion said. "I've got her under
surveillance, just in case, but I'm willing to believe Serenity knows what she's
doing."

Makoto rubbed her eyes. "Oh, I should just chuck this and open that
bakery like I'm always threatening to do."

"You won't escape her. You know she'll be your best customer." A
reminder popped up on his screen. "I've got to go, Makoto, or Serenity'll roast
me."

"Go ahead. I'll check in with Minako, see what she's dug up. Out." The
image faded away.
* * * *
"I don't like this," Sailor Mars said.

She and Serenity were in an air car pulling up to one of the residence
mounds, a futuristic (for us) apartment building. Sailor Jupiter was driving.

"You don't like anything," smirked Serenity.

"Serenity!" fumed Mars.

"Don't," she said quietly. "I know I'm risking my life. I know you just
want to protect me. But Mrs. Hajimi needs me. She agreed to see me and I'm
going. I will not sit in the palace and cower from this person just because
he's threatened me."

Mars looked out the window, refusing to respond.

"Rei, don't be mad," Serenity begged, clasping Mars' hand.

"Why should I be mad?" Mars responded thinly, her legendary anger
smoldering just below the surface. "If you don't care, why should I?"

"Rei," Serenity sighed. "I'm not trying to get killed. It's just that
there are worse fates."

"Such as?"

"Watching you get killed," and she squeezed Mars' hand. Mars looked at
her, eyes blazing.

"So you'd rather have me watch you get killed? Thanks, 'friend'."

Serenity's gaze sought the floor.

"I have to agree with her, Serenity," Jupiter said quietly. "I might have
put it a little more diplomatically. But I think this is a tremendous risk."

"But I've got both of you guarding me," Serenity smiled. "There's no way
anything could happen to me. You two need to have as much faith in your
abilities as I do."

Mars let her head fall back onto the headrest. "You expect me to act
based on YOUR judgment? You still can't even make a proper kanji."

Serenity didn't say anything. She was too busy trying to contain her
smile.

At the proper address, Jupiter landed the air car. She and Mars emerged
from the vehicle and surveyed the area with suspicious eyes. There were several
people around who might have been locals. Glancing toward each other, the
senshi decided it looked safe enough. Jupiter moved to help Serenity out of the
vehicle while Mars stood guard.

Naturally the appearance of the legendary Sailor Senshi and Queen Serenity
attracted the few people on the street. There were about five people there.
Three approached eagerly while the other two ran off, no doubt to tell others of
the exciting news.

"Please don't come any closer!" Mars warned them. "We're here on official
business and security demands you stay back!"

"Rei," Serenity began to chide her. Mars shot her a withering look and
Serenity choked off any further protest.

Akane Hajimi was waiting for them and emerged from her quarters. The
woman, nearing thirty, had a quiet, muted beauty that seemed dimmed by her state
of mind. Short black hair, a slim figure and drab clothes were paired with a
face lined with the stress of her recent situation. That, though, was in the
past. She was wide-eyed and awestruck, scarcely able to believe that Queen
Serenity of Crystal Tokyo was visiting her. Serenity's trademark warm smile
sprouted over her face. She started to move forward passed her security
entourage, but Jupiter held her back with a subtle hand on her forearm.

"Your Majesty," Akane sighed wondrously. "This-This is an honor. Thank
you for taking the time to see me."

"Please don't think of it that way," Serenity beamed, in her element.
"Meeting with the residents of Crystal Tokyo is such an honor for me. Besides,
all I was going to do was sit around the palace and be fat. And you absolutely
must call me Serenity, Hajimi-sama. I simply won't stand for formality from
you."

By now the two had reached and Serenity took the woman's hands in hers.

"A-All right," Akane said, thrown by the Queen's utter lack of formality
and haughtiness. "Then please, you must call me Akane."

"I think I'd like that," smiled Serenity.

"If I may ask," Akane ventured timidly. "How soon will the princess be
born?"

"In three weeks," Serenity replied happily, "although she seems so eager
to come out it might be sooner." She took Akane's hand and placed it to her
distended abdomen. "Can you feel her?"

"I think so," the woman whispered. Then she clouded over with sadness.
Withdrawing her hand, Akane turned away to hide her tears.

"You're thinking about your child, aren't you?" Serenity asked. She
nodded. "And your husband?" Again she nodded. Serenity's hand closed on her
shoulder. "That's why I'm here."

"Please forgive the size of my dwelling," Akane choked out, trying to
change the subject. "I know it's not what you're used to . . ."

"You mean that stuffy old palace?" grinned Serenity. "I'll tell you a
secret - - sometimes I wish the King and I lived in one of these dwellings.
It's certainly a lot more intimate than the palace."

Akane looked at her. Queen Serenity certainly wasn't what she expected.
But being near her simple charm and inner glow made her feel better, better than
she had since that awful day. Maybe, just maybe she had reason to hope.

Mars and Jupiter were getting lost in Serenity's aura, too. Though they
both had argued vociferously against this visit, now that they saw the good she
was doing for this poor bereaved woman, their arguments seemed insignificant.

Something ate at the back of Mars' mind, though. She could sense
something just outside her comprehension. It was the same feeling she got from
the tear, the same feeling she got from her vision of Kuramoto at the temple,
but it was dulled, muted. It seemed to surround them all like a morning fog,
but when she reached out to touch it, the impression dissipated. Mars looked
around while Jupiter was transfixed by Serenity. Was she being paranoid? If
not, why couldn't she lock onto anything?

Movement in the bushes by the side of the dwelling, though, brought them
both out of their reverie. As they turned, they both saw a man lurch out of
concealment headed straight for Serenity. Each one cursing themselves for their
laxity, they moved to intercept him.

"Jupiter," snapped Sailor Jupiter, "Oak Evolution!"

Instantly electrical bursts began crackling and exploding around the
unidentified assailant. He staggered back in fear, then dropped to the ground
when he found he couldn't escape the bursts.

"Fire Wall!" roared Sailor Mars.

A ten-foot high circle of flame sprang up around the prone man, trapping
him within its confines. Mars glanced back at Serenity. She was shielding the
cowering Akane Hajimi with her own body. She shook her head. Admirable, and at
the same time maddening.

"I surrender!" howled the man inside the circle of fire. Cautiously Mars
lowered the flame. Jupiter approached him suspiciously, not noticing the
shocked expression that suddenly covered Mars' features.

"Get up slowly," Jupiter advised him. The thin young man with black hair
raised up cautiously, visibly quaking.

"Jupiter, it's not him," Mars said, her voice choked with horror.

"What?" hissed Jupiter, glancing at her.

"I'm not getting the right psychic read from him! He's not Kuramoto!"

"Oh my," they heard Akane gasp. "It's the Nomimura boy from down the
street!"

By now the intruder was up on his knees, his arms raised in the air. They
were right. It wasn't Kuramoto. It was a boy, maybe seventeen, staring at them
with the quaking terror that comes when someone thinks they've reached their
last moment on Earth. Jupiter felt sick to her stomach.

"I-I only w-wanted to s-see the Queen," he stammered.

"Please apologize to him," they heard Serenity say, her voice barely above
a whisper. "I'll take Akane inside and calm her down."

The disappointment in Serenity's voice was like a dagger to the hearts of
the Senshi.
* * * *
Ryoko Suzuki entered her home. It had been searched, but Serenity's
minions had been very cautious about not damaging the place. The woman wandered
into her kitchen, picked up a cake from the container on the table and sat down
absently.

Serenity seemed so genuine. She was convinced that the woman had no
malicious intent in her. She seemed to actually care about everyone and only
want the best for them.

Ichiro would call her naïve. Maybe Serenity was naïve. And power wielded
by the naïve made them dangerous. Ichiro didn't have to tell her that. But the
other stuff she talked about: Home is where your family is. Maybe Ichiro was a
little bit wrong, too. Did they have to live in Japan to be true Japanese?

She looked to her phone. No, that transmission could be monitored. Then
she thought about the communicator in her bag. Ichiro had given it to her.
Maybe that transmission couldn't be monitored. If anyone could find a way, it
was Ichiro. Ryoko looked at it, torn. She didn't want to risk leading
Serenity's minions to Ichiro, but she had to talk to him. She had to ask him if
perhaps they were fighting a war they didn't have to fight.

"Ryoko?" the voice on the communicator asked suspiciously after she
pressed the call button.

"Ichiro? Are you all right?"

"Are you calling from the palace?" he hissed.

"No. The Queen let me go."

"Why?"

"B-Because I wouldn't tell her where you were."

"So she just let you go?"

"She's very gentle, Ichiro. She doesn't want to hurt us."

"She's twisted you. Twisted you with her golden tongue!"

"Ichiro, no!" Ryoko protested. "I believe what you believe! That hasn't
changed! It's just - - she said some things that I've been thinking about. As
long as we live our lives the way we should, does it really matter what others
do? She leads by example, Ichiro. So could we! We could . . ."

"Traitor."

"Ichiro?" she gasped. There was no response. "Ichiro?!"

Tears streamed down her face and Ryoko put her head in her hand. Now what
should she do?
* * * *
"I can't believe you scared that poor woman like that," scolded Serenity.
She, Mars and Jupiter were exiting the Hajimi quarters. Heads turned on the
street as the people saw or felt the presence of the Queen.

"He seemed like a threat," Mars alibied. "Look, Serenity, this guy could
be anywhere! And he's not wearing a sign that says 'Hey, I'm the assassin - -
come stop me!'"

"Well this can't go on," Serenity proclaimed. "Everyone's on edge, the
population's beginning to talk and they're afraid. I won't have it."

"I'll get the air car," Jupiter murmured.

"Well, do you plan to stand in the middle of the square and say 'come and
get me'?" Mars asked sarcastically.

"If it comes to that . . ." Serenity replied.

"Figures you'd say that," muttered Mars.

"Well what am I supposed to do, sit in the deepest depths of the palace
while he goes around trying to get at me? What if someone else dies? You're
the expert on honor, Rei. How honorable is that?"

"Oh, I hate it when you make sense!" fumed Mars.

Instantly, her eyes caught Serenity's looking over her shoulder. She
whirled around, prepared to fend off an attack while at the same time silently
cursing herself for being lax. As she tried to focus on where Serenity was
looking, she felt the Queen push past her. As she did, Mars saw it: a man
sitting on the front step of a dwelling, looking like he'd just hit the depths
of despair. He was bigger than Kuramoto, with a burly body and different hair,
but Mars still felt something wrong just the same.

"Serenity!" she said, a note of warning in her voice. Just then Jupiter
pulled up and Mars, not trusting her feelings enough to act because of what had
just happened before, turned to Jupiter for confirmation.

Serenity ignored them both and approached the man.

"Hello," she said, leaning over as much as she could and smiling her
warmest at the man. "What's wrong?"

"Y-Your Majesty," he choked out, vaguely surprised to see her. "I - -
it's nothing. Please don't concern yourself . . ."

"But I'd like to help," she persisted. "You seem so sad and that makes me
sad. And I am able to do a few things. Please tell me."

"What's she doing?" Jupiter hissed.

"Take a guess," muttered Mars.

"And you let her?"

"How am I supposed to stop her when she's in 'messiah' mode?" Mars
snapped, glancing at Jupiter in annoyance.

Out of the corner of his eye, the man had been watching them. When Mars
and Jupiter looked away to argue, he reached behind his back into a bag.

"GUN!" Jupiter shrieked. She pushed past Mars even as the dark haired
senshi pivoted to look. "Jupiter Electromagnetic . . ."

The words died in her throat. In the time it took to act, the man was on
his feet. One arm was around Serenity's ample waist. The other had the gun
jammed to her chin. A burst of crimson energy colored the barrel of the weapon
and tinted the underside of Serenity's jaw with its light. She was milliseconds
away from being dead; she had to be. There was no way Jupiter or Mars could act
in time.

Then they and the stunned onlookers saw that the deadly energy hadn't
touched Serenity, that it couldn't touch her. A shield was between her and the
barrel opening. It seemed paper thin, and the energy bubbled ominously against
it, threatening to sunder it at any second.

"Die! Die, damn you!" snarled the man. The energy drain from his weapon
caused the holographic disguise field to fall from around him, revealing him to
be Ichiro Kuramoto. He kept his finger jammed down on the firing stud.

"Please," Serenity said, gently and patiently, as if talking to a child,
"You don't need to do this. We can talk this out." Her hands covered the
barrel, trapping the energy within.

"No talk!" Ichiro bellowed. "You don't talk your way out of this! You
don't use your subversive power to steal my mind with your lies of love and
peace! You don't pervert me the way you perverted Ryoko!"

A pained expression flashed on Serenity's face. She tried to suppress it,
maintaining her gentle manner. Mars and Jupiter saw it and dread grew within
them both.

"Do you have a shot?" Mars whispered. "If I use the Dragon's Fire Blast,
it could get Serenity, too."

"I could blow up the weapon with an Electromagnetic Pulse," Jupiter
replied, "but I don't know what the blast would do to Serenity. She's too
close!"

"Well we have to do something! I don't know how much longer she can take
the strain of holding that energy back!"

"I know you don't agree with me," Serenity smiled. "That's OK. I don't
force people to follow me. I offer an alternative to pain and hatred."

"You've sapped the spirit of Japan from it!" snarled Ichiro. "You're
turning the nation into a herd of sheep! You're making us ripe for anyone to
conquer us!"

Thoughts, memories of the impending Black Moon invasion flashed through
Serenity's mind as it did with Jupiter and Mars.

"I won't say that can't happen," Serenity replied gently. "But aggression
and strife only lead to hatred and destruction. Please don't mistake pacifism
for weakness."

"Words!" roared Ichiro.

"They're true. If someone attacked me, I would not retaliate. But if
someone attacked you, I would defend you, even if it meant my death."

Ichiro stared.

"Because you're important," she smiled enchantingly as she struggled to
hold the energy at bay. "Much more important than I am."

Everyone stared at the stand-off, an ominous unease rolling through the
crowd. Jupiter and Mars were ready to act at a moment's notice should they get
the chance. Murmuring grew from the bystanders.

"Please, sir," came a little voice from the crowd. It was a boy no older
than eight. "Please don't kill her."

"She's our Queen," added a woman almost immediately. "We love her. We
need her."

"Please," Serenity continued. "Your gun is leaking energy. You're
endangering your life. Please don't throw it away. That would be something I
couldn't bear to see."

Ichiro seemed to waver.

"I know some people need to strive against adversity to feel alive,"
Serenity told him. "Two of my best friends chose that life, and I'd like to
think they're still my friends. The people who live in Crystal Tokyo aren't
forced to live like this. They choose to live like this. But if that other
life's the life you want, live it with my blessing. We can still be friends."

"No!" Ichiro snapped, his expression hardening. "That's not the way
people should live! You must die!"

It was there before anyone saw it. At most they saw a streak of red and
green fly between them. Before anyone knew it, the weapon was clattering on the
street. Sticking out of the housing was a single red rose.

"To chose your own path in life is your right as a person," lectured
Endymion, standing tall and proud atop the hood of the air car Jupiter had
brought around. "To attempt to chose the path of everyone against their will is
tyranny. I will not forgive it."

In that moment, Jupiter acted.

"Supreme Thunder!" sang out. Lightning danced from the antennae sprouted
from her tiara to Ichiro. He seized up, held helpless by the electricity
flowing through him.

"Don't hurt him!" wailed Serenity as the charge spent and Ichiro collapsed
to the street. She started to go to him, but something held her back.

Turning, Serenity found herself in the arms of Endymion. She allowed
herself a moment for shock to pass through her, then a look of intense gratitude
swept over her face and she molded herself to him as best she could.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"I am now," she replied. "You still haven't failed me." While still in
his grasp, she turned to Ichiro, being secured by Mars and Jupiter. "Is
he. . . he . . ." Then her eyes rolled back into her head and she went limp in
Endymion's arms.
* * * *
Rei, Makoto and Minako waited nervously outside of Serenity's bedchamber.
No one spoke, for they knew what the other was thinking and there was nothing to
say.

When the door opened and Ami emerged, the three tensed.

"She's awake," Ami replied with a gentle smile. "Come on in."

The three entered quickly. Serenity was sitting up in bed, flanked by
Endymion, Luna and Artemis. The woman smiled at them sheepishly.

"Guess I overdid it again," she said demurely. "Sorry if I scared you."

Without missing a beat, Rei sat down next to Serenity, wrapped her arms
around the woman and hugged her tight. Grateful, Serenity returned the gesture.

"That was it?" Makoto asked. "You just fainted from overexertion?"

"That's the prognosis," Ami said. "I can't find any indication that it
was caused by the crimson energy. It has to have been due to the stress of the
situation."

"Holding back deadly energy would tend to tire a person out," Luna added.

"Ah, she's just being lazy like always," kidded Minako.

"I swear you are not leaving this bed until you have that baby," Rei
choked out, still hugging her.

"Rei," sighed Serenity.

"Don't argue!"

"Yes, ma'am," she sighed again. "What about the assassin? How's he?"

"He's being treated," Ami replied. "He's had a prolonged exposure to the
energy leak. I understand there was some organ mutation."

"Will he live?" squeaked Serenity.

"I can't guarantee it," Ami replied ominously. "We'll do everything we
can."

Serenity looked down, clearly distressed.

"So the energy didn't affect her at all?" Makoto wondered, trying to
change the subject.

"Well," Ami admitted reluctantly. "In all honesty, I didn't say that."

"What?" Serenity said, her concern mounting. "What is it?"

"As a precaution, I also ran a scan of the fetus," Ami began.

"What is it?! Did something happen to my baby?!"

"Relax, Serenity, she's perfectly healthy. It's just - - didn't you ever
wonder why Chibi-Usa had red eyes and pink hair?"

"No," Serenity said blankly. "I thought it was just a fashion statement."

That response wasn't what Ami expected, but she recovered quickly. "Well,
I wondered at the time. And I've wondered ever since." She smiled. "Now I
know."

"The energy weapon mutated her eyes and hair?" questioned Artemis.

"Yes. The exposure was too short to do any other damage, but it is
permanent."

"I don't care," sighed Serenity. "She's alive and healthy." Then she
squealed, "And she'll be here in less than three weeks!"

"And this palace is going to party on that day!" Minako beamed.

"Your Majesty, perhaps you should make an announcement to the kingdom
about Serenity's recovery," Luna suggested to Endymion.

"Yes, and I'm sure everyone else has something to do," Rei added in
annoyance. "So how about you guys beat it and let Serenity have her rest."

"Uh oh, the commandant's back," Minako said, easing for the door.

"Move, Blondie, you're blocking the way," Makoto told her, shoving her out
of the way.

"Rei!!!!" whined Serenity.

"Out! Out, out, out!" Rei replied.

Minako paused in the door long enough to pull down her eyelid and stick
out her tongue at Rei.
* * * *
"I think you're crazy, but I know better than to think you'll listen to
me," Mars muttered. She and Jupiter were escorting Serenity to the room where
Ichiro was being held.

"We can't just keep him locked up," Serenity replied, moving at a very
slow pace. "If he's agreeable, I'll help him. If not," and she sighed with
reluctance, "I'll send him away."

"So he can return and take another crack at you," Jupiter responded. "You
know, Ami said she might be able to help him."

"If he prefers, I'll let Ami help him. But it's his decision."

"Serenity," Mars began.

"It's his life."

"And yours. And Chibi-Usa's."

They paused at the door while Jupiter unlocked it. Serenity avoided the
glare her friend was giving her. Mars had a point. She had to think about
Chibi-Usa's life as well. That might force her into doing something she didn't
want to do. Sometimes being a monarch was just no fun at all.

"Serenity, don't look!" gasped Jupiter.

She tried to shield the woman with her body and drag her away. But
Serenity was able to peer over Jupiter's shoulder. On the floor was Ichiro,
disembowled and dead in a pool of blood.

"Oh!" Serenity cried. Despite Jupiter's efforts, she managed to push
past and enter the room.

Kuramoto, lacking a sword or dagger, had taken a memory crystal and spent
much of the night honing it down to a sharp point, then disembowled himself in
the traditional Japanese manner.

"He must have felt his capture was a loss of face," mumbled Mars.

"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!" wailed Serenity, crying. "Why
would he do something like this? Why?"

"He was a traditionalist to the end."

"But . . ."

"It was his decision," Mars whispered. "It was his life."

Mars took charge of Serenity and led her away, crying, while Jupiter took
charge of cleaning up.

Ichiro Kuramoto was given a traditional Japanese funeral. Rei led the
cerimony and Queen Serenity gave a eulogy, though it was evident to everyone
that the effort was both physically and emotionally taxing.

Ryoko Suzuki was there. She stood silently, smoldering in anger and
bitterness. She only noticed Serenity's approach when the woman was almost
upon her. Ryoko tried to flinch back, but was too late. She found herself
wrapped in the queen's arms and crushed to her body. And the aura of the queen
and the genuine sympathy she felt in the gesture served to wash Ryoko's anger
away. The tears then flowed and the two women grieved together. Only at the
stern urging of Ami did Serenity return to the palace to rest.

Ryoko Suzuki left Crystal Tokyo. Without Ichiro, the city no longer felt
like home.

And on June 30, 2980, Crystal Tokyo gained a Princess.

THE END