THE END OF EDEN
Chapter 15: "A Foundation For The Future"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Talon Umbra, in her lair deep under the earth, completed the reformation of her surrogate Tygos. The ebony creature, shaped like a woman, her white eyes and her silver hair the only deviance from her ebon makeup, knelt before her mistress in supplication. Talon Umbra nodded, for it was her due, then gently touched Tygos on the head to bid her rise. She turned to her other surrogate, Tenera, as the creature watched a miniature recreation in mist and smoke of events on the surface.
"My Mistress," Tenera whispered, her voice unwilling to give more sound to the unimaginable. "Your minion upon the Earth - - has failed!"
In the recreation, Death Phantom lay upon the ground, barely conscious and beaten. Standing over him was Queen Serenity, supported by King Endymion and her senshi. Talon Umbra surveyed the scene calmly.
"So he has," was all she said.
"My Mistress!" Tenera exclaimed.
Talon Umbra felt Tygos looking over her left shoulder.
"Send me to the surface, My Mistress!" pleaded Tygos. "I shall succeed where this weakling has failed! I shall crush all who oppose you under my heel!"
"Or send me, My Mistress!" Tenera added urgently. "I shall weave a spell of lies and deceit that will destroy your enemy!"
Talon Umbra reclined upon her throne of volcanic rock. She adjusted the hem on her green silk dress.
"There is no need," she replied.
"But My Mistress!" Tenera persisted.
"You forget yourself," Talon Umbra warned her. Immediately Tenera bowed to the feet of her mistress.
"Forgive me," she asked.
"The most effective web is the most intricate," Talon Umbra informed her subordinates. "Even the simplest web may snare a victim, but what if the first strand is evaded or escaped? I gave Death Phantom all he needed to succeed and was confident in his victory. But there is always the possibility that something will happen that is not planned for and that instance may lead to failure. So I planned for his defeat as well as his victory."
Talon Umbra leaned forward, her serpent's eyes trained on the smoke and mist representation of Queen Serenity. Her hand extended out and hovered above the model of the queen for a moment. Then she brought the hand through the smoke and dissipated it.
"Queen Serenity has emerged victorious," Talon Umbra said. "But her journey toward paradise has taken several steps backward. I as well have regained enough of my previous power and vigor to sustain myself. And the second part of my plan is about to unfold, if I know my adversary correctly." Talon Umbra reclined again on her throne. "Round three in about six hundred years, my saintly foe? Perhaps you will escape me then as well. But your life will be mine. I have sown the seeds of your eventual demise, Queen Serenity. Be it six hundred years or be it more, I am content to wait"
"Did we get him?" Venus asked. They peered around Serenity at the fallen form of Death Phantom. The skeleton doggedly clutched his crystal orb, but there seemed little life to it.
"Energy reading is," Mercury reported, her visor in place, "point zero nine seven of one percent of what it was. That's remarkable."
"Yes, I can sense it," Mars added. "He's weakened to a shadow of his former self." She turned to Serenity. "What did you do?"
"I was able to surround him in an energy sphere that cut him off from the violence and hatred that he feeds off of," Serenity explained. It was obvious that the entire ordeal was still distasteful to her. "It should also cut his influence off from everybody else."
Something exploded in the background. Everybody flinched and glanced at it.
"Clearly in some cases, the fault lay not in their stars," Mercury commented.
"What she said," Jupiter mumbled. Then she turned to Serenity and looked the Queen straight in the eye. "So what do we do about him? Because I know what I want to do."
"Mako-chan," Serenity groaned, grimacing.
"Hon', don't," Jupiter replied, "please. I know you don't like the idea of killing, but this guy is different."
"He's a person, Mako-chan," argued Serenity. "He has just as much right to live as we do."
"Does he?" Mars asked. "Look around at everything he's done. Think back on every moment you winced in pain because you felt another life snuffed out. They deserved to live just as much as you say he does. Maybe more, because they were just trying to live and love and laugh like any normal person. They're all gone now. And each act that killed them is directly traceable back to him. I know evil when I feel it, Serenity, probably more acutely than anyone else here, even you. That THING is evil and needs to be destroyed."
Serenity only grimaced again, then glanced at Mercury with a silent appeal.
"Intellectually I acknowledge the statistical possibility that anyone can be reformed with the proper motivation," Mercury stated. "But from a medical perspective, a bacterium is alive, too. Yet when that bacterium becomes a threat to human life, the best recourse is to kill it."
Serenity's eyes dropped. Then she glanced at Venus.
"I always stepped on cockroaches," Venus replied solemnly. "Sometimes you have to do things you don't like in order to protect things that are important."
"Wise words," Sailor Pluto chimed in, "and precisely the reason why he must be spared."
They all turned to Pluto in shock.
"Death Phantom, in his guise as Wiseman, has a vital role to play in what is to come," Pluto explained. "You all know this. Were he destroyed on this day, the act would inalterably change both your future and your past, and throw both into chaos. My Queen, I most humbly advise you - - spare him."
It seemed to be what Serenity wanted to hear. She turned to Endymion for confirmation.
Endymion sighed in frustration. "I don't know. Every fiber in me says to destroy him now, while we can. If not for what he's done, for what he's going to do to thirtieth century Crystal Tokyo - - and to our daughter." Serenity winced at the memory and anger flared in the eyes of the senshi. "I'd give anything to spare her that. But what Pluto says is right. We can't do it."
"No, we can't," Serenity nodded. "For all those reasons, and for the simple fact that killing is wrong. I will not be convinced otherwise."
"You're making a mistake," Jupiter argued.
"That's hardly a first for me," Serenity said with a melancholy smile. She glanced at Mercury. "You and Artemis were talking about a planet?"
"It was recently discovered beyond the orbit of the outermost body in the galaxy," Mercury nodded. "It's known as Planetary Body 2861. No one has named it yet."
"And it can sustain life?"
"That seems to be what the data relayed from Haruka and Michiru in their latest deep space communication said. Frankly I don't see how. And it wouldn't be much of an existence. The planet seems barren beyond crude elemental life, bare minimum vegetation . . ."
"Yes, yes, but he won't die?"
"It's a logical place for exile," Mercury sighed. "But how do you plan to get him there?"
"Leave that to me," Serenity said. She glided over to the fallen Death Phantom.
Cupping her hands around her chest, Serenity opened the warp and summoned the silver crystal. Death Phantom seemed to cringe slightly at its light, but otherwise didn't move. Holding the jewel above her head, its energy causing her hair and skirt to ripple from displaced air, Serenity concentrated. The glow from the jewel grew brighter.
"You'll wish you'd killed me," Death Phantom wheezed. "If I live, I will return. I will crush your dreams and take your life."
Serenity could feel the eyes of her senshi burning into the back of her head, but she continued on. The glow around Death Phantom increased until the entire area was illuminated in pure silver.
"I shall forever be your nemesis, Queen Serenity," Death Phantom said. He began to fade from view. "I vow to return. Mark this in your history."
"I know," Serenity whispered as he faded from view, transported through space to Planetary Body 2861, to be known in time as Nemesis. "I still forgive you."
The glow faded. The jewel returned to her chest. And Serenity collapsed, caught as always in the arms of Endymion. The senshi huddled around her as Endymion hoisted her up into his arms.
"Pulse rapid, breathing shallow," Mercury mumbled as she scanned her friend. "She's pushed herself to her limits again. We need to get her home quickly."
Mars silently closed her hand around Mercury's wrist.
"A long rest and a good hot meal should cure her," Mercury reassured her. Then she grinned wryly. "Or I suppose in her case, several dozen good hot meals."
Mars returned the grin with moist eyes and a grateful smile. The anxiety of the others eased as well and they all trudged home.
Serenity lay in the sensor bunk in the palace infirmary, sleeping peacefully. To one side,Endymion sat and watched. To the other side, gathered like a miniature choir, were her ten current adoptive children, plus several more who had graduated to adulthood, but not from being the child of their beloved "Usagi-Mama".
"Is Usagi-Mama ever going to wake up?" asked Kaorin, a cute little moppet of six with short black hair and big, inquisitive brown eyes. Endymion could feel the unease in the room. It matched his own, despite what his long-atrified medical skills told him.
"Yes," Serenity whispered. Everybody turned to her with an expectant hush and they were rewarded by delicate eyelids parting to reveal sleepy blue eyes. "I'm sorry if I worried you, Kaorin-chan. But you know what an old sleepyhead I am."
To a person, everybody leaned in, touching or hugging Serenity if they could, chattering about their joy or relief. Through the mob, Serenity's hand filtered out and extended toward Endymion. He took it and she gripped it firmly.
"Oh, I'm just so happy!" Serenity beamed. "Everybody's here!"
"Everybody except Yoko-chan," Kaorin said glumly. Endymion noticed the guilty grimace on Sosuke's face. "Usagi-Mama, why did that have to happen to her?"
"Why do bad things happen to anyone?" Serenity asked. She cupped her hand against Kaorin's cheek. "It's part of life. All we can do is just love Yoko that much more and try to make her life as easy as possible."
Outside the recovery room, Makoto peeked in, then smiled and turned to Ami. Ami was, as usual, busy at her desk on her computer.
"Serenity just woke up," she reported to Ami.
"That's good news," Ami replied absently. Makoto could tell that what was on her computer screen wasn't good news.
"What?" she asked, gently nudging Ami.
"I'm," Ami began, her voice distressed, "surveying the damage done to the world. Most broadcast and internet technology is down. I've gleaned what I can from orbital observation satellites." Ami released a frustrated sigh.
"I can't believe the level of destruction," Ami said. "Humanity has managed to wipe out over three hundred years of technological progress in a matter of days. Not to mention the regression in behavioral evolution."
"But that was temporary, wasn't it? Now that Death Phantom's influence is gone . . .?"
"Crime and violence is down, yes," Ami nodded. "But initial indications are that levels are still four times what they were before Death Phantom intervened."
"Guess some folks weren't as evolved as everyone thought," Makoto judged. "I know I was having some thoughts during our fight with Death Phantom that I didn't think I was capable of anymore."
"And it's not just that. I'm picking up reports that seem to indicate some of the rampages may not have been random."
"I'm seeing a pattern that indicates that intellectuals were specifically targeted and murdered," Ami whispered, haunted by what she was seeing. "Scientists, doctors, educators all have a significantly higher death toll than any other profession. It's as if not only recorded knowledge was targeted, but those who could reinstate that knowledge were as well."
"The less intelligent the population is, the more easily it is to sow fear and hatred," guessed Makoto. Ami nodded sadly.
"And the cause was taken up so readily by some," Ami said forlornly. "I begin to wonder if humanity is capable of evolving into beings of peace and intellect."
Ami felt Makoto's hand on her shoulders, massaging them just the way Makoto knew how. Reflexively the tension evacuated her being.
"We got the genie in the bottle once, Ames," Makoto told her. "We can do it again. All it'll take is a little hard work and patience. I'm not ready to give up on this species just yet."
"Oh, Makoto," Ami sighed, her eyes closed, her glasses perched on her nose and a contented smile on her mouth. "You're an unshakeable optimist. I think that's why I love you."
"And I thought it was because of my cheesecakes," Makoto grinned. Ami's familiar bird twitter laugh sang out as she touched Makoto's hand with hers.
Departing eventually so Ami could get back to work, Makoto ambled back to their quarters in the palace. As she turned into the corridor, she met Sakura along the way. It didn't take much observation to see the woman was upset.
"Sakura?" Makoto inquired. "What's up? Something bad happen?"
"Oh, Grandma Cubed," Sakura said with an air of frustration and finality. Instantly Makoto collected her.
"Come on inside," she told the woman. "I'll get us some tea and you can talk about it."
The tea sat untouched. Makoto looked across the table from her descendant as the woman struggled to find the words to communicate.
"It's Hojo," she finally admitted. "I - - we called the wedding off."
Makoto's hand slithered out and captured Sakura's.
"I thought I knew him," Sakura said, her lip trembling. "But the last few days - - well, I've seen a side of him . . ." She sighed again. "I'm not sure I can live with that."
"Have you told him yet?"
"Yes. He didn't say it in so many words, but I think he was having the same feelings about me. I've kind of seen a side of me that I didn't know existed - - or didn't want to know."
"Well," Makoto began, and Sakura could once again see the sage matriarch of the Ikegami family who always knew just what to say, "I think you two kids are overreacting to this a little. Love sometimes means tolerating your mate's bad side. Everyone's got one. But if you think you can't do it, it's better to call it off now. It's a lot easier to call off a wedding than to extricate yourself from a marriage. It hurts, but it hurts a whole lot less."
"I just hate disappointing you," moaned Sakura. "And Aunt Serenity - - she was so looking forward to this."
"I'll handle Serenity," Makoto smiled. "Yeah, she'll be disappointed, but a pan of jumbo croissants will take the edge off of that." She clutched Sakura's hand harder. "Sakura, don't give up. This may not be the end. I happen to think you and Hojo really do love each other. When the trauma of what happened dies down, I think you and he will realize that, too."
"How?" Sakura almost sobbed.
"When it gets to the point where you can't live without him anymore," Makoto said with a warm, motherly smile, then winked. "Then you'll know. And if it doesn't happen, there are plenty of other guys out there. Believe me, I speak from long experience."
"Thank you," Sakura whispered, grateful once more that she'd been born into this family. "Is Aunt Serenity going to be all right?"
"Yep," Makoto nodded. "And that means we're all going to be all right"
Rei Hino walked down the corridor at peace. She had just come from visiting Serenity. The woman was up and about, complaining about being hungry, fussing about the cancelled wedding and fretting over how she could convince a nation, and for that matter a world, that she forgave them and they should forgive themselves. It did her heart good to see Serenity normal. Nothing pleased the priest more. By the end of the visit she'd felt comfortable enough to begin teasing Serenity about her myriad yet loveable bad habits. Serenity had risen to the bait each time - - another sign that the worst was over.
Then a wave of sorrow struck the priest. It wasn't a huge wave, but it was enough to snag her attention. Following the sense of the emotion, Rei found herself in the doorway of Yoko's room. The girl was depressed again about her injuries. Rei sympathized, for it was a blow that anyone would have difficulty handling, let alone an eleven year old girl. Sosuke was there, sitting with his sister. Rei sensed that he still felt guilty about what happened to his sister. She sensed that he still felt guilty about a lot of things.
Uncomfortably the priest withdrew. She managed to get as far as the window at the end of the corridor. Absently she looked out over the still gaping wounds of the city.
"You look like you're dealing with something pretty heavy," Minako's voice murmured. Rei turned and found the blonde senshi had appeared as if out of nowhere. "Guy trouble?"
She said it in jest, as was Minako's way, but in a way she'd hit upon it. Rei glanced over at her and momentarily read the serious intent beneath the carefree mask Minako always wore.
"Come on, let it out. I've got nothing better to do than listen," Minako offered. But Rei hesitated, as usual. Could she trust someone with her feelings? "Hey, it's only fair. Even priests need to talk about their troubles once in a while. Promise I won't laugh - - unless it's really dorky."
For a moment, Rei contemplated stalking away. For another moment, she contemplated smacking Minako right across her smug mouth. Then she relented - - that was Minako's way, too. It wasn't intended as a put-down.
"Have you ever," Rei began, gazing out over the city. Then she dropped her gaze. "Silly question, I guess. You were a popular idol, after all."
"Were?" Minako asked.
"I'm trying to be serious here," bristled Rei.
"And I'm trying to listen. But I have to warn you, I've got an appointment next week."
"OK, OK! There's this - - guy - - and he's - - infatuated with me."
"Is he hot?"
"Is he hot?"
"I knew I shouldn't have brought this up with YOU!" Rei fumed. She started to leave, but Minako grabbed her arm.
"Hey, relax! I'm just yanking your chain! I have to have some fun." Minako leaned against the wall, serious. "So you've got a fourteen year old who's crushing on you. Believe it or not, I have had that happen more than a few times in my life. You should see some of the fan mail I've gotten over the years. It'd drain the color out of your robes."
"So what did you do?" Rei asked.
"Took it as a compliment - - occasionally an incredibly creepy compliment, but . . ." Minako shrugged. "Hey, how many women are there in the world? And he thinks you're the most beautiful, alluring, sexiest woman in existence. Be flattered, as long as he keeps his distance."
"It's not that simple," Rei murmured.
"Yeah, it never is with you," sighed Minako. "So what is it, someone you work with? The son of a friend? Someone in the palace?"
Rei flinched ever so slightly.
"Sosuke, isn't it?" Minako asked.
"Who told you?" Rei demanded.
"The way he's always staring at you with those puppy-dog eyes? You're probably the only adult in the palace who didn't know. Has he made a move?"
"No," Rei shook her head. "I think he's too scared. I let him know I'm not interested without saying that I know about his crush. It's just . . ."
"Awkward, I know. It'll pass."
The skepticism on the priest was obvious. Minako sighed with frustration.
"Rei, do you remember your first crush?" Minako asked. Rei looked at her curiously. "Do you still feel the same way about him now?"
"It's the same way with Sosuke. Just ride it out. Don't do anything to encourage him. Don't do anything to hurt him. And a year from now, maybe less, he'll be chasing some girl his own age and you'll be yesterday's news. It's going to be a little awkward for a while, but it'll pass. Just don't do anything to really hurt him, because that could last forever."
The priest mulled the words over while Minako stood by and watched over her.
"I hope you're right," Rei said eventually.
"Of course I'm right!" Minako proclaimed. "After all, which one of us was Sailor V?"
"Just don't let it go to your head," the priest scowled.
"Too late," Minako smirked. "Fastest ego in the west."
That even managed to draw a snicker from Rei.
Her name was Ai. She was seven years old. She was a chubby little girl with shoulder length black hair and the largest, deepest, most soulful violet eyes imaginable. Everybody always remarked to her mother about her beautiful eyes.
Ai clutched the plush panda to her chest. Memories of her mother made her miss her. It brought the tears to her eyes again and she didn't want to cry. She was tired of crying. The ones that had already formed were blinked away. The girl kept walking down the street.
In spite of her wishes, the bad memories came flooding back, brought on by her recalling her mother. Everything had been idyllic for little Ai. She went to school. She played with her friends. She dreamed of being a wonderful, beautiful and kind queen like Queen Serenity. Then the shadows came.
The neighborhood became a scary place at night. She heard a scream the first night that sounded like her friend, Sana. She heard several screams that night. She heard glass break and thunderous footsteps outside. The next day, Sana wasn't in school.
At about one, the teacher suddenly became angry for no reason. She pounded her fist on the desk, then stood up and began screaming at the class. No one could understand why she was so angry. When she began throwing things at the members of the class, all the children ran out. In the schoolyard, two of the bigger kids in class began beating up one of the boys for no reason. Then several older boys came in. Ai got scared and ran home. She told her mother and her mother told her she didn't have to go to school for a while.
One night the noises outside her house grew louder and angrier. Ai couldn't sleep. She was afraid. But when a loud noise came from downstairs, Ai got out of bed and peeked down the stairs. The shadows had broken down the door. They might have been men, but it was too dark to tell. They seemed like living shadows to Ai. Her father lay in a pool of blood. Three of the shadows were on top of her mother. She was screaming and crying, struggling to get away. Ai didn't know what to do.
Then one of the shadows started for the stairwell. Panicked, Ai scurried to her bedroom and hid under the bed. As she cowered, she heard her mother's anguished screams echo up the stairs. She saw a glimpse of the shadow's foot and pleaded with the gods not to let it find her. Eventually her mother stopped screaming. But Ai stayed under the bed all night.
In the morning she ventured downstairs. The environmental control computer didn't work. Neither did the lights. The heat of early July came through the kicked in door, unabated by the non-functional climate control. There in the center of the living room, Ai found her parents. They didn't move. They only stared up at the ceiling. Ai knew they weren't sleeping because their eyes were open. But they didn't move.
For an undetermined amount of time, Ai sat huddled in a corner of the kitchen, her arms folded over her chest. She sobbed uncontrollably. Smoke filtered into the dwelling from fires in the distance. Occasionally there was an explosion in another part of the city that would be heard or felt. From time to time she heard shouts, some angry, some fearful. It was all background noise to her. For seven year old Ai was realizing that her parents were gone and she was suddenly alone in the world. She didn't want to sit in the corner and cry for the rest of her life, but she didn't know what else to do.
Then she heard a voice. At first she cringed, fearing the shadows had come back for her. Then she realized the voice was kind and gentle. The voice identified itself as Queen Serenity and Ai recognized that she only heard the voice in her mind. It asked her if she was tired of being afraid. If she was, the Queen asked her to lend her power. Ai didn't know what power she might have that the great Queen Serenity could use, but she knew she was tired of being afraid. The girl concentrated as she never had before in her seven years, thinking "yes" over and over. Finally she heard the Queen say "thank you" and she knew she had done something good.
Then she heard nothing.
For the longest time, Ai sat in the kitchen, wondering what had happened and what would become of her. Then she heard the Queen's voice in her mind again. Though Ai didn't understand all of the words the queen used, she understood the message: Things were bad. Lots of people had done bad things and lots more were in a bad way because of it. The city was in ruins and the world wasn't in much better shape. But that was over now. Everyone had to forgive everyone else, as she forgave everyone, and work together to rebuild what they had. Only together could they restore what had been destroyed. She heard Queen Serenity promise to do everything she could to help, but that she needed everyone else to help as well.
When the queen stopped speaking, Ai realized that when she felt Serenity's voice in her mind it was the first time she'd felt secure since the time of the shadows began. With that, the girl pried herself out of the corner. She went upstairs and put on her best dress. Pausing only long enough to pick up her favorite plush bear, Ai walked out of her dwelling and down the street.
Few noticed the little girl walking along the street by herself. They were too wrapped up in their own personal tragedies or their own guilt over what they had descended to. Others were busy heeding the call of the queen and cleaning up. Serenity had been their sovereign and their savior for their entire lives. She symbolized hope to them. For many of the citizens of Crystal Tokyo, if she said it, they believed it. So focused were they that they missed the little girl with the reddened eyes and the haunted stare. If they did notice her at all, it was only to note that she was headed in the general direction of the palace.
That night, the King and Queen were summoned from their dinner by the guard at the front gate. It had been the first dinner young Yoko was able to attend. Despite her injuries, she was strong enough to sit with her adoptive family in her robotic chair. It had been an encouraging sign to Serenity's adopted brood after so much recent tension and heartache. When their surrogate parents were called away, many in the group felt some of the anxiety return. To their surprise, they returned with Endymion carrying young Ai in his arms.
"Children," Serenity addressed them. "I want you to meet Ai. Ai is going to be staying with us from now on. Think of her as your new little sister."
From the background, the inner senshi looked on, beaming with pride. Kaorin bounded out of her chair and ran over to meet the new addition. Ai seemed timid at first, but Kaorin's charm began to put her at ease. Endymion then led her around to meet her new family.
When they got to Sosuke, the boy seemed lost at first to know what to say. He could see Ai's timidness in his presence. He could sense the quiet expectations of his Mamoru-papa and Usagi-mama. He could feel the reproachful glare of Yoko on him, daring him to do the wrong thing. Then he suddenly recalled his own introduction to the family and the words Hojo had said to him.
"Hi. I'm Sosuke," he said as gently as he could. "We all kind of know what you're going through. I know we'll never be your real family - - but we'll be the best family you could hope for from now on."
Ai still looked at him timidly, but he sensed some relief in her posture. As she moved on to Yoko and his glance followed her, Sosuke momentarily locked eyes with Rei. The priest nodded her head in approval. Embarrassed, Sosuke looked away to conceal his pride.