THE PATH ONCE TRAVELED
Chapter 8: "Missing Moments"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
The Yokohama City Jail personnel had never experienced the famous Sailor Senshi before. They certainly had never had occasion to house one of them. And yet here were two sitting in lock up, albeit two of the least recognizable senshi. Unlike the Tokyo jails, no provisions were available to keep the two senshi housed separately. Thus, as they awaited arraignment, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Pluto shared a cell.
Pluto fiddled with her senshi communicator. She had received a call from Luna earlier concerning something. At the time, she couldn't answer. Now it was Luna who wouldn't - - or couldn't answer. Pluto pondered the meaning of this with growing anxiety.
"Perhaps they are out of communicator range," Pluto mused out loud.
"What?" Neptune asked. She had been silent and morose the entire trip to the City Jail, through booking and the gauntlet of the press.
"Luna attempted to contact us earlier," Pluto told her. "I was unable to answer due to - - our unfortunate circumstances. I attempted to contact her just now and there is no answer. Perhaps they are now out of range of the communicators."
"Or maybe they don't want anything to do with us anymore," Neptune offered with fatalistic humor. "I imagine the story is all over Japan by now. You'd have to be on a mountain not to know what happened."
"Indeed," Pluto nodded.
"I'm sorry for involving you in this," Neptune said. "I've tried to exonerate you whenever I can."
"I bear you no ill," Pluto replied. "You did what you thought necessary for the benefit and welfare of all. It is - - regrettable that it turned out this way."
"Regrettable," Neptune repeated. "It doesn't seem to be a strong enough term for what actually happened."
The sound of high heels clicking on linoleum attracted the attention of the two senshi. They looked to the door of the cell. One of the guards appeared at the door of the cell. Quickly they saw he was accompanying someone.
"Superintendent-General Sakurada," Neptune said neutrally. Pluto could see the police official wasn't happy and she was certain Neptune could see it, too.
"This is how you handle a situation?" Sakura demanded.
"The aliens are dead," was Neptune's only reply.
"We know. We found the bodies. The federal government is coming to claim them," Sakurada informed her. "We also have three dead innocent victims and testimony from witnesses that say you executed them."
"That's not true," Neptune said unemotionally. "One of them was self-defense."
"Superintendent-General," Pluto interjected, "it was our opinion . . ."
"MY opinion," Neptune interrupted.
"That to eliminate the aliens as soon as possible was necessary from a public safety standpoint," Pluto continued. "Unfortunately it meant the tragic deaths of their hosts."
"Well I'm glad you two think it's tragic," Sakurada snapped. "On that point, you happen to be in agreement with a great many people - - particularly the families of those three dead victims. I don't suppose it occurred to you to merely capture them for scientific study?"
"Do you think modern science could have found a way to safely extract those parasites in a day?" Neptune asked.
"You don't know that they only had a day," Sakurada contended.
"They were desperate to retain new hosts," Pluto outlined. "Combine that with the obvious physical stress the hosts were exhibiting and it is not an unreasonable conclusion."
"So you executed them," Sakurada said.
"Yes," scowled Neptune. "I executed them. I took three lives to spare six billion. It was the only action I felt I could take to keep the death toll the lowest. And I am solely responsible for that decision. Pluto had nothing to do with it. She was against it from the start."
Sakurada stared at her, still frowning. Neptune refused to acknowledge her.
"Being a police officer," she began, "I can understand that kind of thinking - - taking a life to spare the lives of innocents. But as a police officer, I also understand that if my actions result in the deaths of innocents, I can be held accountable for those actions."
"I'm perfectly willing to accept the consequences of my actions," Neptune stated.
"Even if it means prison?" Sakurada asked. "Because judging by the initial public reaction to this incident, I can almost guarantee it."
"Superintendent-General," Neptune began, looking up at her with eyes red and clouded by heartache, "there's no place you or anyone else could put me in that's worse than where I am now."
Sakurada stared silently and Pluto detected a sense of loss in the police official. Finally Sakurada turned to the jail guard and handed him a folded paper.
"This is a warrant for the release of Sailor Pluto," Sakurada told him. "Based on testimony from witnesses at the scene, all charges against her have been dropped.."
The guard gestured to Pluto and she rose from her seat. But then the senshi paused and turned back to Neptune.
"Go ahead," Neptune said softly.
Reluctantly, Pluto exited the cell. Sakurada walked off. Pluto started to follow, but turned back
"I will return with legal assistance," Pluto told her.
"As you wish," Neptune said unenthusiastically. Pluto grimaced.
"This does not have to be the end," she told Neptune.
"I think it does," Neptune countered. "Looking back over the last few days, there's so many things I'd do over if I could. Looking back over my career, there's been an arrogance to me and I think that arrogance has finally caught up to me. Maybe it's better that this is the end. I certainly don't have the stomach to continue this fight. Not without Haruka."
Pluto stared at her helplessly.
"You go ahead," Neptune told her. "Join up with the Inners. Sailor Moon has always been important to you. Protect her. Make her dream come true."
"Is there anything else I may get you?" Pluto asked.
Neptune smiled suddenly, the first smile Pluto had seen on her friend in a long time.
"Canvas," Neptune said, "and some paint. I've realized that I have one more mission on this world. I have the rest of my life to make sure that the world never, ever forgets who Haruka Tenoh was or what she looked like." Neptune dabbed tears from her eyes. "And I want to get her down on canvas," and her lip trembled slightly, "before my memory of her starts to blur and fade."
"I shall go immediately," Pluto nodded, "my friend."
It was the last thing she remembered saying.
Setsuna Meioh's eyes shot open. She was in the guest room that Michiru had provided. She sat, cross-legged, on the bed and had been meditating. Her hand came up and rubbed her temple.
"I must have fallen asleep," Setsuna whispered to herself, for she was often her best counsel. The woman glanced over at the clock on the night stand. The numerals went from midnight to twelve-oh-one. "Wait," she mused. "This is not right. I was in Yokohama."
Climbing off the bed, Setsuna picked up a robe that Michiru had provided and donned it. The robe was slightly too short for her, owing entirely to her unusual height, but Setsuna didn't give it a second notice. Tying the sash, she ventured out of the bedroom and into the house. Her feet padded silently on the floor and her green-black hair, bereft of the ball knot that usually held it up, swayed slightly behind her and tickled the floor boards.
Silently, she exited the home and stopped on the back porch. The night air was chill, but she didn't notice because of the overwhelming sense of deja vu. Then she looked down. Haruka sat on the step and stared out at the yard, whole and alive. An utter sense of joy flooded over Setsuna, coupled with a dizzying confusion. Haruka, alive? How was it possible? She looked up into the night sky and stared at the stars. Her disorientation passed and she realized through some inner sense that she didn't understand that this was suddenly days ago. Somehow time had shifted and what had been her present in Yokohama was now her past in Tokyo. Though she knew it was something other than a divine act, there was a sense in Setsuna that wouldn't go away, that being that she'd just experienced a miracle.
Finally, after a period of time neither noticed, Haruka stood up and turned to go inside.
"Setsuna?" she exclaimed, startled by what she found behind her. "What are you doing out here?"
Setsuna didn't reply at first. She only stared up at the stars. Curious, Haruka looked to see what their guest was staring at, but could see nothing unusual. The sandy blonde turned back to Setsuna.
"Something has happened," Setsuna said at last. She continued to stare at the stars.
"What? What happened?" Haruka demanded.
"I," Setsuna began, then halted. A look of confusion again crossed her face. "Something has returned me to the day I first noticed the world had changed. But it is now no longer changed," and she continued to stare up into the sky. "I am the one who has changed."
"I don't understand a word you just said," Haruka said with that familiar bluntness that Setsuna suddenly found wonderful.
"The present has been altered," Setsuna murmured, still staring up at the night sky.
"The aliens?" Haruka queried.
"No," Setsuna replied. Then she turned and looked directly at Haruka. "I cannot say why I know what I know. But I know where the aliens are."
"Well what are we waiting for?" Haruka exclaimed. She pushed past Setsuna and ran into the house to wake Michiru.
"Sailor Venus," Setsuna thought suddenly. "Sailor Venus is somehow connected to all of this. Apparently I and I alone have been returned to the past with memories of that path once traveled." A buoyant smile crossed Setsuna's usually world-weary face and she turned to go back inside. "It is good to see you alive again, Haruka. Perhaps this time we may conclude this matter in much more acceptable terms."
The Fiat sped through the nighttime at high speed. The freeway south from the city to Yokohama was nearly deserted at this time of night. Only a single semi-trailer passed them heading into Tokyo with fresh produce from the farms.
"You're certain the aliens aren't still in the city?" Michiru asked. She rode in the passenger seat while Haruka drove. Setsuna was again wedged in the back.
"Yes," Setsuna answered. "Our invasion of their lair in Akasaka was known ahead of time. Our quarry has fled Tokyo for Yokohama in hopes of escaping our efforts to capture them."
"And you know this how?" Michiru inquired.
Setsuna was silent for a moment. "How I know is something I - - must not divulge. I apologize, Michiru. It is not something you or Haruka should know."
Haruka eyed her in the rear view mirror.
"I understand that you have to keep certain things secret, so as not to alter the future," Michiru said carefully. "If, however, you're keeping things from us because you - - well, you're afraid that the facts will somehow hurt us, it's not necessary. We're stronger than we look."
"I do not challenge your assertion," Setsuna replied, "but I still cannot speak further as to how I obtained this information."
"Very well," Michiru nodded. "We'll speak no more about it."
The Fiat parked down the street from a normal residential home just east of the Yokohama business and entertainment district. It seemed normal in every way. But Michiru couldn't contain a fleeting sense of deja vu.
"This set up seems remarkably like the one in Akasaka," Michiru remarked. She and Haruka observed the home from the Fiat.
"We must move," Setsuna told them, her henshin stick out, "now!"
The three piled out of the car and transformed. The residential street was dark, save for the streetlights, and absent of activity. Once the transformation took hold, Sailor Pluto charged for the unassuming residential home, her Time Staff up and ready.
"The direct approach?" Neptune asked as she trailed behind. Uranus had, of course, already caught up to Pluto.
"Time is our enemy more so than discovery," Pluto said to her. Turning to Uranus, she said, "Draw your Space Sword. Bring the energy within it to the blade, but under no circumstances release the sword's energy arcs. The energy field of the sword will force the parasites to relinquish control of their hosts and vacate."
"Got it!" Uranus nodded.
They reached the front door. Pluto brought the Time Staff to bear and blew the door open with a sonic blast. As the trio barreled into the darkened home, Uranus and Neptune stopped for a moment to get their bearings.
"The basement!" Pluto called to them. "Hurry!"
Barely waiting to turn on the light, Pluto rambled down the wooden stairs into the basement. Uranus and Neptune were on her heels, trusting in Pluto's plan despite their misgivings about entering this unknown situation. At the bottom of the stairs, they turned and found the incredible and the horrible: four people, most likely the family that resided here, chained to the far wall with makeshift fetters, cowering in fear.
"Help us! Please!" cried the youngest, a girl of twelve. Uranus and Neptune froze for a moment in astonishment and disgust. Pluto, though, whirled and brought the Time Staff to bear on the shadows under the stairwell.
"Dead Scream!" she said.
The sonic blast slammed point blank into the area under the stairs and guttural cries of pain followed. Uranus and Neptune saw two people fall partially from the shadows. A gun also clattered along the cement floor.
"Now, Uranus!" Pluto shouted, lighting the area with the Garnet Orb. "Neptune, be ready with the Deep Aqua Mirror! Destroy the parasites when they emerge from the hosts! But be wary, both of you! The parasites may lunge at you in order to take control of your bodies!"
Now they could see there were three people under the stairs. Uranus moved in, her Space Sword glowing with built up energy. As the sword drew near the hosts, they in unison began screaming in agony. Uranus glanced at Pluto in confusion, and received a nod of reassurance. The cries of the hosts echoed through the basement until it seemed everyone was engulfed by them. Their pain seemed to reach down into their souls.
"Uranus!" Neptune cried out. "The one nearest you! Coming out of her nose!"
One of the parasites crawled out of the nose of a pudgy woman with red-brown hair piled atop her head. Fighting back shock and revulsion, Uranus jammed the sword blade down until it was almost on top of the parasite. The segmented, multi-limbed entity writhed under the energy, then curled into a ball and rolled to the floor.
"Submarine Reflection," Neptune said coldly. A crimson beam lanced out of the mirror's face and sliced the parasite in two.
Within minutes all three parasites had been extracted and destroyed. Once that was done, Uranus went over to free the imprisoned family. Neptune, though, looked the former hosts over.
"Pluto, they're not looking too healthy," Neptune said.
"Yes, they will need immediate medical attention," Pluto said. She headed upstairs for a phone. Her call was brief. As she hung up the phone, though, Neptune raced up.
"Pluto!" Neptune gasped. "Noriko isn't down there!"
"No," Pluto nodded. "Calm yourself. I know where she can be found."
The elevator opened and Elza led Noriko to their apartment. As she approached, though, Elza noticed Sailor Neptune waiting by her apartment door.
"Mich . . .!" Elza began, then caught herself. "I mean, Sailor Neptune! Look who I found!"
"Elza," Neptune said as she approached, evenly but with that commanding tone she had that Elza remembered so vividly. "Step away from her."
"What?" Elza gaped. "What are you talking about? It's Noriko!"
Then Noriko shifted. Her weight went to her feet and the arm that had been draped across Elza's shoulder closed around Elza's throat. Noriko brought her right hand up and braced it against the side of Elza's head. Suddenly Elza was caught in a very tight, very deadly vise.
"Stay back!" Noriko commanded in a guttural imitation of Noriko's regular voice. "You let us leave or . . .!"
And Elza felt Noriko stiffen suddenly. Then Noriko crumpled to the floor, emitting a wail of agony akin to a lost soul. Elza turned and found Sailor Uranus holding the blade of a glowing sword to Noriko. Noriko writhed under the energy, crying like she was being tortured.
"Stop! You're hurting her!" Elza cried and lunged at Uranus. Uranus shoved her away and Neptune caught her.
"Don't interfere," Neptune said. Elza turned to her with betrayal etched on her face. She saw Neptune produce the Deep Aqua Mirror and turned back to Noriko in horror.
Then she witnessed a black, segmented, multi-legged creature emerge from Noriko's nose. Gorge rose from her stomach. The creature pulled itself from the nostril, then shoved off Noriko's face and leaped at Elza. But Uranus swatted the creature to the floor.
"Submarine Reflection," Neptune hissed. And the creature was no more. Pulling away from Neptune, Elza knelt down beside the fallen Noriko.
"Noriko!" she wailed. "Are you all right?" A glove closed onto her shoulder.
"No, she's not," Neptune said, her sympathy peeking out behind the senshi mask. "We have to get her to a hospital."
Days later, Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tenoh ambled down the hall of a hospital ward. Michiru carried a bouquet of flowers and wore a dark dress and a weather-appropriate jacket. Haruka had her racing jacket on over a sport shirt and slacks, her hands stuffed into her pockets. As they passed through the hall, a pair of nurses turned and stared at Haruka, then turned and whispered to each other. The tall blonde couldn't determine whether the nurses had recognized her or were just attracted to her. After glancing back and seeing they were suitably cute, Haruka decided it really wasn't important why, so long as they were impressed.
As they approached their destination, a woman emerged from the room. She had thick black hair and wore a blue suit over her slim figure. The suit would be conservative if it weren't for the short skirt and the black hose covering her long legs, as well as the Gucci clasp holding the jacket closed. Haruka instantly pegged her as police. The woman noticed them and her face lit up.
"Well, I'm glad to finally meet you two," the woman beamed.
"You recognize us?" Michiru asked, keeping her suspicion well hidden.
"Oh, yes," she said with a knowing smile.
"Racing fan?" Haruka inquired.
"No," the woman responded inscrutably.
"And you are?" Michiru ventured, irritated that this woman seemed to know something she didn't.
"Superintendent-General Natsuna Sakurada," the woman replied. "May I compliment you both on the way you handled this situation. You did this city a great service."
Haruka stared at her, mute but highly agitated. Michiru had more control.
"Excuse me?" Michiru said warily. "I'm not certain I know what you're talking about."
"Talk to V-Chan," Sakurada said with a wry smile. "She'll fill in the blanks."
And then Sakurada walked away, looking like the cat that ate the canary. Haruka and Michiru looked at each other quizzically, then filed the incident away to deal with later.
They entered the hospital room. The television was on, but no one was listening. Michiru noticed a commercial on the TV for Minako Aino's sit-com, "Island Princess" and suddenly wondered if Sakurada had meant Minako when she said "V-Chan". Noriko Abe was laying in bed, softly sleeping. Elza Gray was sitting in the chair by the bed, leafing through a news magazine. She looked up upon hearing the door and her face lit up with joy.
"Michiru! Haruka!" Elza exclaimed, rising to greet them. "I'm so glad you made it back!"
"We would have been here sooner, but Haruka had to meet with the racing people," Michiru explained, handing her the bouquet.
"It's OK. You didn't miss much," Elza said. "Just Noriko sleeping most of the time. She sleeps a lot now. The doctor says it's normal. The body is healing and conserving energy by sleeping."
"How is she?" Haruka ventured.
"Better," Elza told them, relief coloring her voice. "The doctor says there's no chance of paralysis. It's just a question of letting her heal and building her strength back up. He said she might have some damage to her motor skills. It might be hard for her to sew or hold a pen. Hopefully it won't affect her typing or her speech. I know my Noriko. She'd want to get back to work soon."
And suddenly Elza clouded over with emotion. Michiru was about to reach for her, but she looked up at them.
"I don't know how to thank you, Michiru," Elza said, the earnest gratitude in her voice belying the tears bubbling in her eyes. "You and Haruka, and that other woman - - the one with the green-black hair. You saved her. When I think what she was going through with that - - that thing inside of her, draining her life away and making her do all these terrible things. And you saved her."
"It's why we have these powers, Elza," Michiru smiled and patted her shoulder. "It entails some sacrifice, but accomplishing things like this make those sacrifices worthwhile. Knowing you and Noriko as I do, it only makes it that much more worthwhile."
"Tell you what," Haruka piped up. "When she's feeling up to it, let me know and I'll get you tickets to one of my races - - flight there and back included. I've got Monte Carlo in May."
"Well," Elza grinned anxiously, "Noriko's not much for auto racing - - but we will take you up on the plane ride. I've always wanted to see Monte Carlo."
"Then it's a date," Haruka smiled. Michiru beamed at them both.
Evening found two women dining in a small waterfront restaurant in the Odaiba entertainment district. The restaurant had a stunning view of the Rainbow Bridge and was famous for its Indian cuisine. The women were seated at a quiet table in the back, away from the crowds that, tonight, weren't there. Outside, the winds of early February blew in from across the oceanfront. One of the women was a vivacious beauty with short black hair and dark glasses, dressed in dark colors as if she was hiding. The other was a tall woman with long green-black hair, a sad expression, and a mismatched outfit of a violet jacket with a green skirt and white blouse. They talked as they dined on the house special of curry rice.
"Wow, that's a hell of a story," Minako said, using the end of her spoon to scratch under her black wig. "And I thought I was the only one who remembered 'The Days That Dropped Out of Time'. Is everyone all right?"
"Neither Haruka nor Michiru show any ill effects," Setsuna related. "They are blissfully ignorant of what occurred during the altered days, and it is my wish that they remain so."
"Yeah, no sense courting trouble."
"And all is well with you now?"
"Things couldn't be better," Minako beamed. "The series is going great, I'm going to be in a movie, my album's in the can, Toshi and I are closer than ever," and Minako paused for a moment, overwhelmed. "And I made a new friend out of it, too."
"This Ryoko you spoke of?"
"Yeah. I didn't know if we'd hit it off, because we're so totally different. But she's real easy to get along with. And I introduced her to the gang. She and Usagi hit it off immediately, of course. Ami loves her because she actually understands what Ami's talking about half the time. Makoto's real comfortable around her because she doesn't have to be 'Miss Happy Homemaker' all the time and can let her inner tomboy loose." Minako grinned. "Naturally Rei's a little wary of her because she's suspicious of anybody new. But she can see Ryoko's good people with that priest mumbo-jumbo of hers, so she'll come around." Then inspiration struck. "You have to meet her, Setsuna. Say the word and I'll set you up."
"I," she began, then stopped.
Setsuna was going to beg off, but she realized that "the path once traveled" had contained another lesson, too: that life could change for the worse with a single act and timidity or procrastination only served to risk losing opportunities that might enrich one's life. She glanced at Minako and saw her friend earnestly waiting for an answer and hoping it would be "yes". Minako had always been one who grabbed for life. Maybe it was time she grabbed for a little, too.
"All right, Minako," Setsuna replied. "Perhaps the three of us can dine here."
"Sucked in by the curry rice, weren't you?" Minako grinned.
"Actually," Setsuna said, smirking with a rare devilish glint as she raised her cup to her mouth, "I was quite taken by this wonderful green tea. If its taste can come through after numbing my palette with this extra-spicy curry rice, it must be heavenly by itself."
"You don't like this curry rice?" Minako scowled and rested her chin on her hand. "Some people just don't know how to live."