Sailor Moon: Banished

DISCLAIMER: It's the same as DATCLAIMER and DAOTHERCLAIMER. Anyone with more than the brainpower of a baitfish crossed with a politician already knows that Naoko Takeuchi owns Sailor Moon. I do, however, own several of the other minor characters in this story.

This story takes place immediately after 'Sailor Moon: Devastation' and both of these stories are also part of the 'Love Hina: Crime and Punishment' universe.

Yes, this story will have crossovers, but even I don't know just who or what will show up in it yet. (Well, yes I do in a couple of cases, but saying that now would spoil the surprises). That is why it hasn't been posted in the 'Crossovers' section of this site.

This first chapter mostly sets the scene, so bear with the descriptive scenes and imagery. Things will definitely heat up in Chapter Two.

Now, please enjoy -

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SAILOR MOON: BANISHED
CHAPTER ONE

By Doctor-T

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The Milky Way galaxy that held the parent sun of Earth was huge. Despite being only a medium sized spiral galaxy, it was still over one hundred thousand light years across, and contained between 200 and 400 billion separate stars. No one yet had managed to calculate the exact number of suns contained therein – and nor could or would anyone, human or otherwise, ever narrow the number down to more than an approximation.

Because the Milky Way was a spiral galaxy, it looked much the same from any location around its vast rim when viewed edge on. And so, when Sailor Pluto and Sailor Saturn finally burst from the wormhole created by Chronos, the God of Time, back into normal space, except for the startling brightness of the nearby stars, there was nothing else visible around them to suggest to the shocked pair that they were anywhere else but in the vicinity of their own familiar sun.

But both scared and grim faced sailor scouts knew better than to think that they were now anywhere near the solar system of their birth. Chronos just happened to be Sailor Pluto's nearly omnipotent father, and he had banished them both to the far side of the galaxy as punishment for them trying to prevent the Devastation Timeline from ever having occurred, to alter events back on Earth that had already happened and were meant to be.

Before being banished, Sailor Pluto and Sailor Saturn had indeed succeeded with their desperate gamble to save their fellow sailor scouts – after a fashion, anyway. At Sailor Pluto's behest, Michiru Kaioh – Sailor Neptune - had stopped Usagi Tsukino – Sailor Moon – from entering the alley in Azabu-Juuban where she was fated to suffer a horrific experience at the hands of a molester, thereby triggering the conflagration that was meant to follow. Sailor Neptune's actions did, as planned by Sailor Pluto, cause a separate timeline to come into being at this point, in which the terrible events of the Devastation Timeline had never occurred. But because Chronos had prevented Sailor Saturn from destroying the original Devastation Timeline – although both banished sailor scouts were still unaware of this fact - instead of replacing the real timeline, this alternative one now existed in space/time alongside the original one instead of supplanting it.

Even worse for the Sailor Scout of Time, a few days prior to this, because of Sailor Saturn and Chibiusa's pre-emptive actions in stopping Tuxedo Mask from entering a dimensional portal in Arisugawa Park and meeting his untimely death at the hands of the Oni demons within, a third alternate timeline had also come into totally unanticipated existence that very night, running parallel to the other two. So what was once the single, correct timeline had now multiplied into three different ones. And Chronos, seeing all that had transpired, had not been amused.

Hence the two errant servitors being booted clean across the galaxy to this remote and uncharted region, thousands of light years from Earth.

The two banished sailor scouts had just materialized from the now fading space/time wormhole onto an ice-covered, slowly rotating cometary fragment in the Oort cloud of some unknown star in a totally unfamiliar sector of deep space. And as she stood there on the frozen ice and gas of the tiny chunk of debris, staring with fear at the wholly unknown stars wheeling slowly overhead, although she was trying very hard to conceal the fact from her companion, the grim faced Sailor Pluto was now gripped in the throes of utter desperation.

Sailor Pluto had always before been supremely confident about her powers and her natural ability to make the most out of any given situation. But now, abandoned in the trackless and unknown immensity of deepest space, with only little Hotaru for company, Sailor Pluto felt the cold chill of fear crawl up her spine. Although she had trekked the limitless gulfs of deep space before on more than one occasion, her previous ventures beyond the solar system of earth had always been to comparatively near regions of space, to worlds that she had already known to exist. And on the previous occasions the routes had already been travelled before by the other Lunarians of the Silver Millennium, so Pluto had always possessed the necessary information to be able to find her way back home again.

But not this time. Her father, Chronos, had made good and sure of that. Her and Sailor Saturn's present position was hundreds of times further away from their star, Sol, than she had ever been before. Thousands of light years away from home, on the extreme far side of the galaxy, she was completely and utterly lost.

Still, as she looked out into the star splashed void, Sailor Pluto realized that she at least had to maintain the pretence of confidence, for poor Hotaru's sake. Her far younger and much smaller companion was clinging to her for comfort, eyes wide with quite understandable terror at their more-than-merely frightening predicament.

As she felt the younger girl's fear and need for comfort, Sailor Pluto clenched her jaw and steeled her faltering nerves. It was her responsibility to protect Hotaru, and to get them both back home safely, first to Earth and then to Crystal Tokyo in the Thirtieth Century. The journey would no doubt be long and difficult – but certainly not impossible for them both. And she would not shirk from her momentous task. While there was life, there was hope…!

I have to do this. I can do this! We can both make it back safely home…we can!

The small, quavering, telepathic voice of Sailor Saturn broke into her thoughts, bringing her back to the here and now.

"Setsuna-mama…?"

"Yes, Hotaru-chan? It looks like our journey through the wormhole created by my father is at an end," Pluto projected back.

"But, Setsuna-mama, do you know where we are?"

"No, I don't, Hotaru-chan. I'm not omniscient like my father, Chronos, remember? All I can tell is that I think that we're on the far side of our galaxy, with over ninety thousand light years and the entire galactic core between us and home."

Hotaru gulped and tears appeared in her violet eyes, to instantly freeze and break off into small, floating droplets in the near absolute zero temperature of the blackness surrounding them. "That's…a really long way…!" she whispered. "Setsuna-mama, do you thank that we'll ever be able to get home from away out here, ever?"

Setsuna gave her a hug of reassurance. "Maybe, Hotaru-chan. The first thing that we have to do is find out exactly where we are. Luckily we can both survive in open space so being marooned on this asteroid won't kill us. And the absolute next thing that we have to do is to find you something to eat and drink really soon, as well, or else lack of those two essentials just might do what the absence of air can't."

"But we don't even know where we are," Hotaru wailed. "How are we ever going to find food and drink way out here in outer space? I don't wanna starve!"

"We'll find a way. Chronos didn't maroon us on this big chunk of rock and ice just to die. I can't open space/time wormholes to travel through across the entire width of the galaxy almost instantly like he can, but we both can still sailor teleport between the stars – even if it does take far longer and several jumps to cross interstellar distances further than a couple of light years each time."

"Hey, Sailor Pluto, I've been wondering. How far exactly can you sailor-teleport, Setsuna-mama? In one go?"

"About two light years, Hotaru-chan. You can do about the same distance, I think, so if we hold hands when we jump you'll arrive at the same destination as I do. That way there'll be no chance of us getting separated, like could easily happen to us if we teleport separately."

Sailor Saturn gulped with fright. The last thing that she wanted was to lose her adopted mother way out here in the unknown abyss between the stars. If she did, there was a real and very frightening possibility that they would never ever find each other again.

"Don't worry, Setsuna-mama. I'll hold on tight to you, I promise!"

"There's no real need to get too nervous if we do accidentally get separated though, Hotaru-chan," the Sailor Scout of Time reassured her companion. "I – and you – possess the ability to find planets around nearby stars at about the same distance as we can sailor-teleport – maybe two light years away. Out here in open space, with no distractions, I can also sense the emanations of your planetary power over almost interstellar distances too, so I'm sure that I'd be able to find you again without too much trouble if you were to get lost. And if you do get lost, if you can't sense where I am and teleport back to me straight away, then just stay where you are, okay? Let me come to you!"

"Wow. It's good to know that you can find me! If I get lost, I'll do just that, Setsuna-mama. I sure don't wanna be alone out here…!"

"Okay, Hotaru-chan. See, everything will work out just fine. Now, let me concentrate a bit and see if I can find out just what's in our stellar neighborhood."

With that, the green-haired sailor scout closed her eyes and began to scan the surrounding space with her ultra-keen cosmic senses.

"Luckily, Chronos dropped us off right in the center of a small star cluster, so there's at least two dozen stars within a few light years of our position," Sailor Pluto finally declared, her eyes still closed. "Wow, some of them are packed so closely together that there is less than a light year separating the different stars! There are several hundred thousand other suns in the whole cluster, itself…."

"Have you found any nearby planets?" Hotaru asked, her eyes closed as well as she tried hard to emulate the planet locating skills of her vastly more experienced companion. "I can't sense anything at all out here…"

"Not around the white dwarf star that this asteroid is orbiting. The closest other star to here is a double star system, with a red giant and another white dwarf star orbiting each other. It's just over two light years away and they don't have any planets either, I think…? Wait, they do…just one. But it's far too large for us, it's either a super giant planet or a brown dwarf star, about twelve times the size of Jupiter…! It's over half the size of the white dwarf star - so big, that's actually a triple star system."

"But how would such a system stay stable?" Hotaru wanted to know, staring with incomprehension at her adopted mother. "Why don't they all just hit each other and form one big star?"

"The white dwarf and the red giant are spinning around each other quite closely, but fast enough to stay separated. The brown dwarf is orbiting them both in a very elongated orbit, about three billion kilometres out at present…but during its three hundred year or so orbit it probably approaches as close as maybe one or two hundred million kilometres or so to the others, at a guess, as it circles around them," Sailor Pluto deduced, her senses perfectly capable of plotting the motions of the distant trio of giants that she had sensed. "That would also explain why there are no planets in that star system – the gravity of the brown dwarf would have disrupted their orbits and sent them into one or the other of the suns, or off into deep space eons ago."

"That doesn't sound too promising," Sailor Saturn said, her eyes dropping. "And are all the other stars around here like those ones?"

Sailor Pluto sighed in her mind. "Yes, very probably. And that makes sense, I guess. The presence of so many moving stars, so close to each other in this cluster must play gravitational havoc with any planets that may be circling them. When one star passes close to another, any planets orbiting either of them would have their paths badly disrupted. Big stars with stronger gravity would steal planets from smaller stars, other planets would have their orbits broken and spin off into deep space, and others would be sent crashing into either their own or into the intruding star. I doubt if there's many surviving planets at all anywhere near the center of this star cluster because the stars are packed so tightly together."

"So where are we going to go, Setsuna-mama? We can't stay here on this comet forever."

"My best guess would be for us to head in the opposite direction to the core of this star cluster, Hotaru-chan. The stars on the outer rim would be far more likely to harbor planets than the ones further in, for the reasons that I've just explained to you. The stars further out are our best bet because they are far more widely spaced, which means there's a lot less chance of any other sun coming close enough to them to disrupt their solar systems."

"So we sailor teleport that way, towards where there are only a few bright, isolated stars?"

"That's right," Pluto agreed, gesturing with her garnet rod. "We'll head towards the nearest star in that direction, that big blue, 'B' class one. I don't think it has any planets either, but at least it's towards the outer rim and in the direction of the galactic core which we have to somehow pass through to get back to Earth."

"Okay. I'm ready!" Hotaru declared bravely, her small chin up.

"Just remember to keep a tight hold on my hand, Hotaru-chan. Don't forget what I told you - if we get separated way out here in this alien Oort cloud, it might take us quite a while to find each other again."

Sailor Saturn took a deep breath and grasped Sailor Pluto's hand even more tightly. Then she nodded in readiness.

"Luckily, the stars here are so close together that we should only need one teleport to reach each new one – two jumps at the most," Pluto remarked. "All right, we're off!"

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The sub-space jump brought both sailor scouts to within three hundred and fifty million kilometers of the hot, blue giant star, and it was just as well for them that they hadn't arrived any closer to their destination. So hot was the stellar furnace burning in front of the two lost sailor scouts that they could barely withstand the wall of heat beating into them from the blue-white inferno, despite the super radiant giant seeming to be only the size of a small marble from this still great distance away.

"Sailor Pluto!" Hotaru cried out in terror as her usually space-proof sailor scout fuku began to smolder in the withering waves of solar radiation. "It's too hot!"

"We're going to have to teleport again, right now," Sailor Pluto replied, gritting her teeth in pain, her gloved left hand raised up protectively in front of her eyes to shield them from that terrible barrage of heat. "I'll head towards the next star out! Hold on-!"

Their second jump was much more successful than the first. The two smoldering wanderers solidified back into normal space near another double star system – a 'G' Class star similar to the sun of Earth this time, only slightly larger. It was accompanied by a very dim and tiny red dwarf sun less than a third of the size of its primary, about a quarter of a light year away. Just to the left and above the faint, red pinprick of the red dwarf, burned the much brighter light of the blue monster that they had just fled from the vicinity of, almost two light years further out from their new location.

"Whew! That was close!" Pluto gasped out, clutching her garnet rod tightly against her chest with relief at their narrow escape from incineration. "From now on, I'm going to avoid taking us anywhere near those classes of hotter sun. They're just too dangerous."

"I second that," Saturn agreed, wiping her forehead with her free hand, shards of frozen sweat breaking off and floating away from her in a small shower of hail. "We almost got fried back there!"

"Well, we're much safer here, at any rate." Quickly, Sailor Pluto scanned the binary star in front of them. "We're in luck this time, Hotaru-chan. Both of these stars have planets! The yellow sun closest to us has at least eleven planets surrounding it, while that distant red dwarf star has three that I can sense, even from here."

"Eleven!" Hotaru enthused. "That's a lot, isn't it? Let me see if I can find them all as well."

"Yes, it is a lot, but I sense that two of these planets are actually just passing through this system – fortunately their paths are nowhere near the orbits of the indigenous planets here, so their passage should cause minimal gravitational disruption to the native worlds," Pluto elaborated. "I think that they were originally deep space wanderers, and both are still frozen right through to their cores for this reason. Chances are that both of them were also probably torn from their original orbits around their original suns by the gravitational fields of larger, passing stars."

"I can see them…I think…?"

"The most distant orbiting planet – a very small dwarf one, similar to my own world of Pluto, I think, was also probably captured from around another star – maybe even that red dwarf companion star? It's also on a very eccentric orbit, tilted at about forty degrees to the orbital inclination of the others."

"What about the remaining planets, then, Sailor Pluto? Can you tell if there are any here that look like Earth from this distance? I think that I can visualize one planet close to the yellow sun that seems to be mostly water?"

"You're right, Hotaru-chan, the second one out is a water world. It is orbiting at a distance of just over one hundred million miles from its sun," Pluto informed her. "Three more are big gas giants, there's one smaller gas giant, and also a small, high gravity brown dwarf star that – luckily for the other planets here! – is the closest one in to the central star. It's moving rapidly in a stable orbit at less than ten million miles out from the sun's surface - too close in to disrupt the stability of the orbits of the normal sized planets further out."

"But you said that there are eleven planets here, Setsuna-mama," Hotaru spoke up, her quick mind noticing a discrepancy in the tally. "Even counting the two wandering alien planets, you've still told me of only nine! What about the other two?"

"Yes, but those two are very strange in that they are both roughly the same size and are orbiting each other. They're the third and fourth planets out from the yellow star. And they are both so close to each other that they could even be sharing the same atmosphere…"

"Oboy! That sounds really strange! Can we go and take a look, Sailor Pluto? Please? And can we check out the water world afterwards, too?"

Sailor Pluto laughed, pleased that Sailor Saturn was now being distracted from their desperate plight. "All right, we'll go," she agreed. "If nothing else, you can at least get a drink and have a swim on that water world."

"You have a swim, too, Sailor Pluto! If we're going to be lost in space for maybe forever, at least we can have some fun while we can."

"Oh, why not? You're right. We're not going to get home any faster by worrying about how to achieve it all of the time. We'll head for the double-planet first; it's by far the closest to us, anyway. Hold on-!"

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The two lost sailor scouts flickered back into normal space near their unusual destination – to witness probably the most amazing sight that they had both ever seen, anywhere, and at any time. Even Sailor Pluto could not remember ever having seen a more awe-inspiring world than this one.

"Would you just look at that, Hotaru-chan," Sailor Pluto breathed out in wide-eyed astonishment, almost lost for words as she stared at the unbelievable sight that met her eyes. The two worlds that they had sensed were now hanging right there in space before them - so close to each other that they seemed to be almost touching! "I was right, they do share an atmosphere… Oh, wow!"

"Boy, they're close together," Sailor Saturn gasped out, just as impressed as her mother. "They can't be more than a couple of hundred kilometers apart. Setsuna-mama, if you stood on one of them and looked upwards, you wouldn't see the sky at all! The whole sky would be filled by the surface of the other planet staring down at you!"

"That's unbelievable…!"

"Setsuna-mama? But how could a double planet like this possibly form? It couldn't really be natural, could it?"

"Maybe. You'll find, Hotaru-chan, that most things will have happened at least once, if you search for them for long enough."

"But I still don't understand why they don't collide. Is it for the same reason as the two stars we noticed before – the speed of their orbits around each other is fast enough to keep them apart?"

"Yes, that's correct, Hotaru-chan. Very good! And as to how this twin world formed, I suspect that this was originally one single planet about twice the size of Earth," Sailor Pluto guessed, forcing herself to think the amazing sight through. "Some colossal force must have somehow split the original planet in half and sped up its rotation, so that the pieces of the shattered world had enough orbital momentum to prevent them from merging back into one planet again. Instead, the gravitational field of each half was strong enough to squash the debris of each hemisphere back down into two separate, normally shaped worlds, and the remaining debris thrown further out reformed into that large moon over there that is orbiting these twin worlds… That's absolutely amazing, if it's true?"

"Is what you said even possible?" Hotaru gaped at her mother, eyes huge with shocked surprise.

"Obviously it is, and there's the evidence right there in front of us."

"Wow!"

"I've done a bit more scanning, and I've discovered another interesting fact about these twin worlds," Sailor Pluto continued, as Sailor Saturn continued to stare with rapt fascination at the unique sight. "Since both of these planets are approximately the same size and density, the gravitational tug of each one upon the other has caused them both to stop rotating around their equators. This means that both of these planets have their faces tidally locked to each other, so that the same area on their surfaces is always facing the other, just like the same area on the moon is always facing Earth. However, since each planet is still orbiting around the other like the blades of a spinning propeller, as well as orbiting around the yellow sun up ahead, both of these worlds still have cycles of day and night. Judging by what I can deduce from up here in orbit, the orbital period of each planet around the other in a complete circle seems to be just over fourteen hours, so the days here are a lot shorter than at home."

"Hey, look! There's the moon that you sensed earlier coming into view behind the right hand side planet!"

"Yes. And it's in quite a wide oval orbit around that binary planet, a bit further away than our moon is to Earth…but that's only to be expected in this situation."

"It's not as big as our moon, either," Sailor Saturn remarked, her eyes closed as she concentrated hard on the distant natural satellite as it slowly drifted into view. "It's maybe two-thirds as big…?"

"Yes, that's about right, I'd say. You're getting better with your senses already. Well, Hotaru-chan. Do you want to land on one of those two planets, or continue straight on to the water world you sensed orbiting further in?"

"Thanks for the compliment, Setsuna-mama. And let's go down," Hotaru told her excitedly. "The view of the sky from the surface of either planet down there is going to be awesome!"

Sailor Pluto laughed. "All right, but we'd best be careful where we land. If both of these planets didn't have their faces tidally locked to each other, we probably wouldn't even be able to set foot on either of them at all."

"Why is that, Sailor Pluto?" Sailor Saturn asked, her small brow frowning with puzzlement under her gold tiara.

"Because the colossal tidal forces caused by either one or both of these planets still rotating around their axis would cause both worlds to be seething masses of erupting lava, with super strong earthquakes, exploding volcanism like mini-solar flares and seas of magma, probably miles high, rushing across their surfaces, Hotaru-chan," Sailor Pluto elaborated grimly. "That, indeed, must have been the case before their gravitational drag on each other caused the rotation of them both to slow down and to finally stop. Once that finally happened, over millions of years, their surfaces would have slowly settled down to a normal state and solidified into proper land."

Sailor Saturn shuddered. "That sounds a bit like Jupiter's moon, Io, in our own solar system. Io is a mass of volcanoes and lava, too, and that's caused by Io being so close to Jupiter's really big gravitational field, isn't it, Setsuna-mama?"

"Very good, Hotaru-chan. I see that you have been paying attention in science class at your school, after all. Well, shall we teleport down to the surface of the nearest planet, or drift down slowly to enjoy the view from orbit?"

"Drift down, Mama! I wanna go in directly between the two planets to see what's there!"

"All right," Sailor Pluto grinned at her eagerness. "Let's break orbit and go."

As Sailor Saturn drifted excitedly onwards through the black void ahead of her, Sailor Pluto smiled at her young companion's boundless enthusiasm as she followed her much younger charge at a far slower pace.

Boy, I wish that I still had Hotaru's energy. If I did, we'd both make it back home in half the time that it'll take us now!

"Setsuna-mama!"

"What is it, Hotaru-chan?"

"There's something else here!" Hotaru called back excitedly to her second mother, pointing to a far distant point in space over the curved horizon of the nearest of the two rocky worlds. "Midway between the two planets. I'm not sure what it is, but it could be a small moon!"

"A small moon? Between the two planets?" Sailor Pluto murmured, looking surprised as focused her own preternatural senses on the indicated location of space. "You're right, Hotaru-chan, I can sense it now myself. Okay…from what I can tell from here, the object seems to be several kilometers wide, so it could conceivably be a small captured asteroid. But since it's too small and far away for our eyes to pick it out yet, we'll need to physically see it to be sure of that."

"Okay, but how did it get there in the first place?" Hotaru wanted to know. "I can't sense the thing moving through space at all! It seems to be totally stationary."

"Hmmm? Maybe it approached too close to this double planet, got pulled into a stable orbit around one of them, and then had its velocity drained off by the pull of the twin planets' gravitational fields as it continually circled between them both," Sailor Pluto guessed. "Eventually the small asteroid would finally come to rest midway between the two worlds, permanently frozen in place. But the odds of something like that happening without the asteroid dropping down out of its slowing orbit to crash into one or the other of the two planets are almost infinitesimally small…"

"Just like the odds of these two big planets being so close together are," Hotaru enthused, bursting with curiosity at finding yet another miracle in this one sector of space. "I wanna go check it out first, before we go down to the nearest planet. Can we please, Mama?"

Sailor Pluto smiled again at her young charge. "Oh, why not?" She good-naturedly answered. "It's not as though we're in any hurry to keep any urgent appointments, now, are we."

"Yaaay! I love exploring! Let's go!"

"Hold your horses, Hotaru-chan. It'd take us quite a while to fly to that mystery object's location, so we'd best teleport there. Then we can fly down to one of the planets after that, and enjoy the view then. What do you say?"

"Yes, Mama," Sailor Saturn agreed, flying quickly back to Sailor Pluto, to grab her free hand and tug impatiently at it. "Good idea! Come on, let's go!"

Sheesh? Teenagers?! "All right, all right! I'm teleporting us there right now!"

And with twin flashes of light, that was exactly what they did.

-:-:-:-:-:-

The banished pair of sailor senshi flickered back into normal space only a couple of kilometers above what they had guessed to be a wayward asteroid, trapped in place like a fly in a spider web by the combined gravitational fields of the two far mightier worlds it had dared to approach.

They were wrong. On several counts.

First, it wasn't the cold vacuum of space that had rematerialized back into. It was air. Non-breathable air at that altitude, but air, nonetheless. For, being in such frighteningly close proximity to each other, the twin planets did indeed share a single, all enveloping atmosphere that stretched in a several thousand kilometer wide circular column completely across the roughly three hundred kilometer distance between the worlds.

Secondly, while Sailor Pluto's guess at the trapped object being approximately two kilometers long was correct, an ordinary rock or nickel-iron asteroid it was not.

The huge object that the two travellers arrived above appeared to have the shape of a perfect sphere. Because such a comparatively small object couldn't possess nearly enough gravity to crush itself down into a globe, Sailor Pluto knew instantly that it was far too circular to be natural.

Unless, of course, the trapped object was made of super-dense compacted matter such as a neutron star, or the compressed, burnt out nucleus of a white dwarf star…!

As that terrifying thought crossed her mind, Sailor Pluto felt the cold hand of fear freeze her heart to its core. She had just realized that if this mysterious stationary sphere was the remains of a collapsed star, she and Hotaru had just doomed themselves. They wouldn't even have a split second to teleport back out of the irresistible pull of its gravity well before crashing at meteor speed into the ultra-hard surface below them and be spread over the impact site in a twin smear that would be far less than the thickness of a single atom.

Luckily for their continued survival, nothing of the sort happened. No fearsome gravitational tug had snatched the hovering pair, to yank them violently downwards to their doom. Sailor Pluto calmed her hammering heart, realizing with a sense of overwhelming relief that they were in no danger from that particular type of cosmic horror – this time.

It was only then, after she had composed herself once again, that Pluto noticed the speckled patches of greenery splashed across the surface of the enigmatic globe. And, could those really be some bizarre form of trees towering up for hundreds of meters into the world-spanning atmosphere, to form an almost unbroken forest of vegetation that completely blanketed the minuscule world…?

"Look, Mama, there's trees down there!" Hotaru yelled, waving her staff with excitement at the tiny planetoid, and using her voice to talk with in the thin, cold, very high altitude air, instead of her telepathy. "That's absolutely amazing! Just look how tall they are. I wonder if there are animals down there, too?"

Without waiting for a reply, or even giving a thought as to her personal safety, the excited young sailor senshi began to drop down towards the forest-covered surface below them.

"Stop, Hotaru-chan! Don't go running off on your own," Sailor Pluto hurriedly called out to her young charge, immediately speeding off in the young teen's wake. "This construct is obviously artificial, and it may still be inhabited by its builders," she then warned her querulous companion. "We'd best stick together and be on our guard."

"Yes, mama," Hotaru answered, coming to a full stop again. "Sorry, I didn't think of that. But we're sailor senshi. Surely we don't have too much to worry about from anyone or anything that we may discover down there?"

"Maybe. But you never know, Hotaru-chan. And taking wise precautions never hurt anybody, did it?" Sailor Pluto pointed out.

"Okay. I'll be careful, Setsuna-mama. I promise."

"Good girl. All right, we'll go down now and do our exploring, together."

-:-:-:-:-:-

Down on the tiny world below them, hidden amongst the familiar looking, though totally alien trees, a large, dark gray shape raised its blunt snout up to the heavens, its banana-shaped, armored head cocked into a fair approximation of a listening pose. The thing had just sensed the approach of two strange, bipedal creatures, who were descending from the great void into its domain. With a loud, spine-chilling hiss, the sinister, insect-like creature scuttled away, moving swiftly into a black, circular tunnel that angled down into the detritus covered ground, the thing vanishing amongst the inky-black shadows within.

It had companions to warn.

Mere moments later, the trap had been set. All that remained now was for the two interlopers to spring it.