Chapter 12: "To Understand"
By Bill K.
The sonic waves split the evening, knifing through the ears of the senshi. Each one cringed reflexively as pain shot through their heads.
"Ahhh! It hurts!" wailed Sailor Moon.
"What are they doing to us?" Mars grimaced.
"DAMN IT!" Venus bellowed through her agony. "VENUS! LOVE AND BEAUTY . . .!"
And the noise stopped. Slowly the five senshi rose up from their protective crouches and looked at the aliens. The visitors from space stood and watched them warily.
"Guess they showed that they can defend themselves," Mars gasped out, her hand to her temple. "You all right, Sailor Moon?"
"Feels like my brain is pudding," moaned Sailor Moon. Then she gave Mars a fisheye look, but Mars was too involved with the aliens to take the straight line.
"So now what?" asked Venus. "Do we just let them go?"
"No!" Uranus replied sharply. All eyes turned to her, even some of the alien eyes. "You let them go and they'll have the opportunity to contaminate more of the planet!"
"We don't know if that's their intention!" pleaded Sailor Moon.
"It's already happened!" Uranus roared. "They're not human, Sailor Moon! Stop assuming they think like humans!"
"But what if they're peaceful? What if . . .?"
"Why were they using that sonic weapon if they were peaceful? What were they going to do with that metal rod? Do you want to risk more people ending up like Michiru?"
"If only we could communicate with them," Mars scowled.
And a light went on in Sailor Moon's eyes. Her senshi saw her raise her right hand. The aliens crouched defensively, but they need not have worried. In her hand, she held the Disguise Pen.
"Moon Power! Make me into a beau . . ." and she glanced at Mars with chagrin, "into an alien just like the ones before me!"
The sweet potato patch was bathed in a radiant light. When it dissipated, another alien creature in an environmental suit stood where Sailor Moon had been. All the senshi reacted with surprise, even Pluto - - but not nearly as much as the four aliens did.
Immediately the lead alien began emitting the shrill chirps and clicks again. The senshi recoiled, Uranus and Mars prepared to launch attacks to protect Sailor Moon as they cringed. But Sailor Moon in turn began emitting the same sounds, though at a softer level. To the wonderment of the other senshi, the lead alien lowered its level as well. The two quickly entered into a protracted conversation with each other.
"I don't believe it," mumbled Uranus.
"Think she's getting through to them?" Venus posed.
"She is the Princess," Pluto said proudly. She almost seemed to be smiling - - almost.
After a lengthy wait, the conversation between the two beings finally ended. Sailor Moon backed up two paces, then let her disguise fade. She emitted a shuddering sigh.
"Sailor Moon?" Mars asked with concern.
"I think that's the hardest disguise I've ever had to maintain!" she wheezed. She took a breath to steady herself. "They're not our enemies."
"They told you that?" Uranus asked suspiciously.
"They only came to Earth in search of the first one," Sailor Moon explained. "He was taking readings of the planet for their data banks when his ship became disabled and crashed on Earth. They said they were trying to retrieve him," and she glanced down, "before he contaminated our world."
"THEN IT WAS THEIR FAULT!" snarled Uranus. "THEY DID THIS TO MICHIRU!"
"Uranus!" Sailor Moon said, grasping the senshi's forearm. "It wasn't their intent. They said they wear those suits to prevent accidental contamination of other species. And because their own bodies can't survive the nitrogen in our air. They came to rescue their fellow alien, but also to make sure his suit hadn't been damaged and our planet wasn't contaminated. They were genuinely terrified of what might happen if his body was exposed to our environment, both for his sake - - and for ours."
Uranus was just staring off into space.
"So," the towering senshi croaked out, "if I - - if I hadn't assumed it was hostile - - hadn't fired on it . . ." The lanky woman's legs buckled underneath her and Uranus sank to the ground, sitting amid sweet potato furrows, staring into space with silent, growing agony. Tears welled in Sailor Moon's eyes.
"Um," Venus ventured, "do they know the other one is dead?"
"Yes," Sailor Moon nodded. "I told them. I told them it was an accident - - that Uranus didn't mean to kill him."
"What did they say?" Venus asked.
Sailor Moon bit her lip. "They said - - to convey their condolences to Uranus for the burden she has to bear for the rest of her existence." Sailor Moon sniffed. "Those were his exact words."
"They don't want revenge?" Mars asked.
"They consider vengeance beneath them," Sailor Moon replied, a grateful smile coloring her lips. "They're a very peaceful people. Their biggest concern was not hurting us. That's why they avoided contact with us. They didn't know how we'd react."
"Pretty smart, given what's happened," Mars nodded.
"Do they have a cure for the contamination?" Pluto ventured.
Sailor Moon darkened. "No. That's why they were in such a hurry. They didn't know how our bodies would react to bacteria from their world."
Turning away from her senshi, Sailor Moon walked over to the lead alien. They all no longer viewed her with suspicion. When she was about two feet away, she stopped and bowed at the waist to him. The alien in turn made several gestures to her that elicited a radiant grin from her. Sailor Moon gave them a small wave. The aliens returned to the tube and were sucked up into their ship. Once the tube retracted, the meteor banked right, then angled up into the night sky, headed for space.
As this happened, Sailor Pluto knelt down next to Sailor Uranus. Tears streamed down the normally hardened face of the lanky blonde.
"Uranus?" Pluto prodded.
"I killed her," Uranus whispered vacantly. "I killed Michiru, as sure as if I'd slit her throat."
"My friend," Pluto began.
"They were aliens. I just assumed they were hostile. And I let my assumptions destroy the most precious thing in the universe!"
"That is not necessarily so, my friend," Pluto counseled her. "Do you recall that during our search for the alien, we noticed some sticky yellowish residue upon the ground and leaves of the brush. I am convinced his environmental suit was damaged in the crash and the residue was blood or some other fluid from the wounded alien. It is quite likely that Michiru was already contaminated before you attacked the alien."
Uranus glanced up at Pluto, her reddened eyes needing to hope that her colleague was right. Pluto returned the glance with steadying reassurance. And out of the blue Uranus bolted to her feet. She ran off toward where the Fiat was parked at a speed none of the others could hope to match. The senshi just stared after her.
"My Princess," Pluto said to Sailor Moon, "forgive me if this is a burden to you, but I believe I will have to make the return trip to Tokyo in your car."
After fifteen of the longest minutes of her life, Haruka Tenoh parked her Fiat, rode the elevator to the Isolation Ward floor and barreled out. She flew down the hall, broke open the door to the ward with a running shoulder block and burst into the ward. As the surprised duty nurses looked on, the woman skidded to a stop in front of the observation window to Michiru's room.
The bed was empty.
Her consciousness swirling around her, Haruka stared at the crisply made bed. A yawning chasm of despair and utter emptiness opened up before her. She wasn't sure she had the strength any longer to keep from toppling in and she wasn't sure she wanted to. Emotion began to twist her insides into a gigantic knot at the prospect of going on without Michiru. But why go on? What did it matter? What did anything matter?
"Tenoh-San," Haruka heard someone say. The person touched her arm. She looked blankly at one of the duty nurses. "Kaioh-San has been released from isolation. I'll take you to her new room."
Haruka barely resisted the urge to kiss the woman on the mouth.
It seemed to happen in a blur. One moment she was staring down at the smiling nurse. The next moment she was peeking in through the door of a private room. Laying in the bed was Michiru. She was asleep and still hooked to a respirator, but her monitor showed her heart still beat and her blood still flowed.
"The treatment is going to take a while," the nurse told Haruka, "and she's going to need some recovery time. But the doctor is very optimistic."
Without asking, Haruka stepped forward into the room. The nurse quietly closed the door. When she reached the side of Michiru's bed, Haruka sank to her knees. Grasping the sheets in two fists, the woman buried her face into the side of the mattress. Kneeling next to the most precious thing in her life, Haruka Tenoh cried and she cried and all she could think to do was cry some more from the relief and joy she was experiencing.
Then she felt something brush her hair. Haruka looked up and saw Michiru was awake and stroking her sandy hair. Haruka gently grasped the hand and pressed her lips to the soft palm. The tapered fingers lovingly wrapped around the side of Haruka's cheek.
A sound woke Haruka. After a moment's disorientation, she recovered enough of her wits to recognize her surroundings. She was sitting in a chair in Michiru's hospital room. There was some light in the room, filtered by the blinds on the windows, but she could tell there was a bright sun in the morning sky. A nurse was up by the head of Michiru's bed, changing the IV bags. She turned and looked at Haruka.
"My goodness, Ma'am, did you sleep in that chair all night?" the nurse asked. She was a slim woman with black hair, probably fresh out of college. Any other time, Haruka might have flirted with her.
"That's what my back is telling me," grunted Haruka as she leaned forward stiffly. "Sorry if I violated the rules."
"Well, the head nurse must have felt it was all right or she would have run you out of here by now. But if you're going to try a stunt like that again, you might want to use that instead of the chair." She nodded to the empty bed that shared the room with Michiru.
"Sounds like a good idea," Haruka grinned sheepishly. She nodded to the IV bag. "What's that?"
"Kaioh-San's breakfast," the nurse smiled. "She can't eat solid food with that respirator in her mouth, so she's going to have to take it intravenously for a while."
"How long does she have to be on that thing?"
"You'd have to ask Dr. Nomura that," she replied diplomatically. "But she seems to be breathing a lot more easily now. I wouldn't think it would be too much longer."
Haruka found comfort in those words. What she found more comfort in was Michiru's eyes opening. After a moment of searching, she found Haruka and locked onto her. The delicate hand of the artist reached out. Haruka caught it and the two hands squeezed tight. The young nurse retreated as quietly as possible.
"Sorry for getting all teary," Haruka said, feeling her eyes misting again. "It's just - - I came so close - - and it would have been all my fault . . ."
She felt Michiru squeeze harder on her hand. The woman shook her head, restricted as it was by the respirator and puddled in green hair that was beginning to grow yellow at the roots. Once more Haruka felt unworthy of this goddess on Earth, and once more she felt so utterly grateful that this goddess looked upon her with favor.
"Ma'am," the nurse said, pausing at the door, "I think Kaioh-San has some other visitors."
Haruka turned to the door. Peering in were Usagi, Rei, Makoto and Minako. Makoto was balancing young Akiko on her shoulder. Haruka grinned and waved them in.
"How's she doing?" ventured Rei while the others huddled around the bed.
"Doc says he's optimistic," Haruka told them. "He says it's going to take a while, but I can see she's a lot stronger now than she was yesterday."
Pulling herself away with some difficulty from her love, Haruka walked over and grasped Usagi's hand.
"Thank you all for helping her," Haruka said hoarsely. "And thank you for stopping me, Dumpling. You were right about them. If you hadn't shown up, I probably would have destroyed them all - - and then we'd all be doomed."
"We all make mistakes, Haruka," Usagi smiled with supreme charity and humility.
"And she's the expert on that," Rei added slyly amid twitters from the others. Even Michiru's eyes twinkled.
"The thing is to concentrate on all the good you've done and not dwell on the bad," Usagi continued, ignoring the priest. "Michiru's recovery is just as much your doing as anyone. You were there for her, night and day. You helped her be strong through her darkest time. She couldn't have done it without you - - none of us could have."
Glancing from Usagi, Haruka picked up Michiru's face. Her love nodded her agreement.
"Hell, I'm going to start crying again!" Haruka cursed, turning away from the gathering. Everyone got a nice laugh from that, too.
"Is this a private party or can anyone join?" they heard Ami venture. The doctor was standing in the doorway of the room, dressed in her hospital uniform of tight navy skirt and heels, white blouse and white lab coat. Her eyes peered over her glasses and she wore a warm grin. "I'm on my break between rounds and I thought I'd peek in . . ."
"AMI!" Usagi squealed. She raced across the room, trapped Ami in a bear hug and dragged the woman into the room. "Oh, Ami, you are just the genius of geniuses! I knew you'd find a cure, I just knew it!"
"Yeah, way to go, Ames," Makoto said. Akiko chortled happily upon recognizing Ami.
"Knew you'd come through," Rei nodded.
"Hey, that's the way it always works," Minako added. "Brilliant doctor hero always finds the cure in the next to last reel."
She was about to reply, but Ami suddenly found Haruka looming over her. The woman reached out and gratefully seized her hand.
"Thank you," Haruka choked out. "I'm going to be in your debt forever."
"You're quite welcome, Haruka," Ami said. "But I can't claim total credit for this. I received a valuable assist from Dr. Nagashi during my research."
"But it was mostly you, Ami," Usagi said. "And you were worried about whether you were as good a doctor as everyone thought. Now do you see that Ryo-kun was just - - one of those unfortunate things that happen in life - - that his death wasn't your fault?"
Ami looked down for a moment. Then she lifted her head and some of the melancholy that had been there once wasn't there now.
"Yes, Usagi. I think I see that now," Ami nodded. "Thank you."
Usagi lunged and caught Ami in another crushing hug. Ami glanced from her to the grateful expression on Michiru's face - - and felt the ghost of Ryo Urawa fade from her shoulder.
Just a little bit.
In the hospital cafeteria, Haruka Tenoh sat and absently ate her meal. Michiru's prognosis was good. The other senshi had returned to their lives. Her sponsor had called, inquiring as to when Haruka planned to resume her racing career. It was already hard to believe she had come so close to losing everything. The euphoria of the near miss had worn off and Haruka felt drained - - grateful, but drained.
"Mind if I sit here?"
Haruka looked up. It was Junko. On her tray was a banana, a box of fruit juice and a package of cookies.
"Mom might. I don't," Haruka responded.
"Well Mom's not here, is she?" Junko responded as she sat down.
"What kind of a lunch is that?" fussed Haruka. "You don't eat enough to keep a fly alive."
"Why is it whenever we talk, you always have to lecture me at least once?" Junko shot back. "Just because you're my big sis doesn't mean you know everything."
"I know one thing: You're supposed to respect your elders!" Haruka groused. "Just where did you get that mouth?"
"Probably the same place you did," Junko smirked.
Haruka sighed, but she couldn't keep the grin off her face.
"So how soon until I can visit Kaioh-San?" Junko asked. "I want to ask her if there are any embarrassing moments in your life."
"You know Mom and Dad aren't going to like that. Don't court trouble."
"Oh, Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad! Honestly, sometimes I think they're just jealous and hateful! I wish I . . ."
Junko stopped when she felt Haruka's hand on hers.
"Junko," Haruka said with ominous seriousness. The teen quieted. "You may think most of my advice isn't worth a hundred yen coin and you'd probably be right. But if you don't listen to anything else I say, listen to this: Don't assume things about people and don't base your actions only on those assumptions. Because if those assumptions are wrong, you could end up destroying everything in your life that you love."
"Like Mom and Dad did?" Junko asked.
Haruka thought for a moment. "I guess. You're pretty smart for a kid."
"I'm not a kid!"
"Yeah. Sorry," Haruka smiled, dropping her eyes. She thought a moment, then got up. "I got to go, Junko. It's nothing personal. It's just - - it's been a whole half hour since I've been with Michiru. You know how it is."
"Yeah," grinned the teen. She brushed some blonde hair from her eyes. "I'll be seeing you, huh?"
"Sure," the lanky woman nodded. "Thanks for staying with Michiru."
"No charge," Junko replied. "Give her my best."
Haruka nodded and headed off. Junko sat and thought as she peeled her banana.
"That was some pretty heavy stuff she was talking about just now," mused the girl. "I wonder what happened when she was off being Sailor Uranus." Junko paused, a bite of the banana in her mouth. "I don't know what's harder to get used to: that I've got a sister or that she's also Sailor Uranus." She paused and took a bite. "I wonder if I should tell her that I know?"