THE CHALLENGE OF LADY KITSUNE
Chapter 1: "Sober Times"
A neo-Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2010 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2010 by Bill K.
It was that agonizing time of every day where mere minutes lay between now and that brilliant beckoning future when class would be dismissed for the day. The signs were there. Ves could be seen tensed in front of her work station, her eyes riveted to the chronometer in the bottom right of the screen. Cere had gone so far as to make a holographic display of the clock. That got Palla-Palla's mind wandering and she was lost for good now.
And it was difficult for Usa, Hotaru and Jun to follow the lecture on three dimensional vector geometry when the teacher's eyes kept darting between the subject prompt on her lectern and the chronometer they all knew was at the bottom of her screen. The fact that today's teacher was Minako Aino made the observed behavior hardly surprising, but no less difficult to follow.
"So a compensation ratio of minus thirty-three degrees will allow the craft to ease back into a safe, um," Minako faltered as she tried to divide her attention, "a safe, um, path."
"Flight course?" Hotaru suggested cautiously.
"Right! That!" Minako pointed. "OK, end of class! Thanks for your participation, ladies!"
"Ay, I thought that would never end!" gasped Ves. She and Cere bolted from their seats, folding up their work stations in one practiced motion.
"Whoa, hold it!" Minako proclaimed. "Don't all stampede just yet! There's still the matter of homework."
Ves and Cere groaned as one. Even Hotaru and Palla-Palla joined in.
"Your assignment tonight," Minako said, pausing for dramatic effect. Then she smiled wickedly. "Is to have fun."
"Huh?" Jun gaped.
"Free night," Minako explained. "You've all earned it. Just don't destroy anything valuable. And don't incapacitate yourselves, because you've all got attack training tomorrow at nine." The happy exclamation from Ves rattled the walls of the room. They were still vibrating as the party of students moved into the corridor.
"How about we go out tonight?" Ves suggested as the six girls moved down the corridor from Classroom One to the living quarters. "Hit the clubs. Hear some music. Get lucky?"
"Are YOU choosing the club?" Cere sniffed.
"What's wrong with that?" Ves arched.
"Because I'm not going to one of the dives you like!" Cere shot back. "I'd probably get molested."
"Fine, you pick the club," Ves scowled. "I just want to have fun. You in Jun?"
"No," Jun replied. "I'd rather just take a spin on my hover bike."
"Why don't you marry that hover bike," sneered Ves.
"Can Palla-Palla come?"
"Um," Cere began anxiously.
"I don't think you'd like it," Ves told her. "Besides, you always conk out by nine anyway."
"DO NOT!" Palla-Palla answered, her lower lip protruding.
"How about I take you for a spin on my bike?" Jun suggested. Palla-Palla nodded.
"Maybe Yutaka and I will see you there," Hotaru ventured. "Tonight may be very special. He says he has something to tell me."
"He's met an older woman and it's all over?" Ves suggested.
"Don't even joke like that!" Hotaru gasped in horror. The asteroids chuckled.
"How about you, Princess?" Cere inquired. "You can bring Helios along - - if your Dad will let you."
"No," the Princess replied with a grimace. "I've got work to do."
"Come on!" howled Ves. "You haven't been out of your room in a month!"
"I," Usa began uncertainly. "I can't. I have too many things to do."
The corridor branched and Usa headed down it, towards the Royal Chambers and a convenient escape route. Hotaru and the asteroids just stared after her.
"What is with her?" demanded Ves. "She's been like this ever since that run-in with that Desdaemona chick."
"Something happened between them," Hotaru murmured, staring after her friend, her heart bleeding buckets. "Something that really scared her."
"What?" Jun asked.
"I don't know," Hotaru answered. "She won't tell me and I don't remember seeing Desdaemona again after that encounter we all had in the garden. I've tried to help her, but she won't talk about it. Neither will Helios. All she does now is work and study and . . ."
"And not have fun," Cere completed the thought.
"Maybe Palla-Palla can make her a get-well-soon card," Palla-Palla offered.
Music was playing. The dance floor was covered in a holographic image of the galaxy and people were enjoying themselves. Around the room, tables hosted friends enjoying the atmosphere and the company, and couples enjoying each other. At the bar, people were drinking and flirting or waiting for someone to come along.
Cere was sheathed in a clingy dress with long sleeves and a short hem. It was an artificial lame` that glittered magenta or silver alternately. The neckline had a daring plunge and the dress was augmented with magenta hose and high heels. Burgundy eyeshadow and blood red lipstick adorned her face, and silver spiral earrings dangled from her pierced lobes.
Ves wore a dress as well, though she usually disdained them. The garment was black with spaghetti straps and a short hem. Black hose covered the length of her muscular legs and disappeared into thigh boots with high heels. The teen grimaced as she walked, for she wasn't used to wearing heels. She only did it because she knew men liked it and she was in the mood for male company tonight. Her face was unadorned and only the usual gold-and-jeweled ringlets were in her hair. As she and Cere headed for their table, heads turned.
"You ought to be arrested for false advertising," mumbled Cere.
"What for?" Ves asked, head cocked.
"You look like a girl," Cere needled.
"You're going to look like an air car crash in a minute," Ves growled.
"Ay, I wish one of the others had come too."
A robot serving drone appeared and took their order. Cere's head began bopping to the beat while Ves surveyed the bar.
"Don't you love the music?" Cere sighed.
"It's too 'cyber' for me. I prefer samba," Ves mumbled as she continued to scan the room. "The rest of the place is OK. There's some nice looking guys in here. Too bad they're all hooked up already. Maybe we should have gotten here earlier."
"There'll be another wave soon," Cere assured her. "Cool your jets."
"OK," Ves said. Their orders arrived and Ves took a sip of her drink. She glanced at her companion. "No alcohol?"
"After what happened with that ghost?" Cere gasped. "I'm not touching the stuff again!" She looked at her sister's drink. "And it wouldn't hurt you to leave that stuff alone, too."
"I can handle it," Ves scowled and took another sip almost out of defiance.
Their main course was only appetizers. Neither was there for dinner and they wanted to be able to quickly abandon the table if an opportunity for fun arose. The music continued to play. The energy in the club sizzled underneath, making them and everyone else eager to let loose. A holographic comet sped through the room, passing harmlessly through the dancers. That elicited a whoop of excitement from the crowd.
Munching on a battered mozzarella stick, Cere suddenly noticed Ves sit up straight in her seat. Curious, she followed the girl's line of sight and found what her sister was staring at. A man, clearly not a native of Japan, had caught her sister's eye. He was six foot one with thick black hair combed to one side, in an elegantly tailored suit and tie that formed lines from broad shoulders to narrow waist and hips that seemed almost erotic. Soft features except for hard, penetrating, almost hypnotic eyes completed his face and his skin was like velvet. It was as if a model from one of the holographic ads had come to life. The man was a little too buff for Cere's tastes, but there was no denying his attractiveness. Cere turned back to Ves and found her already out of her chair.
"Ves?" Cere inquired.
"I saw him first," Ves rumbled menacingly.
"Fine. You can have him," Cere replied, almost chuckling. "Good luck. I hope he knows what he's in for."
The man with the hypnotic eyes turned and signaled the robot serving drone at the bar for a replacement for his downed drink. A body shoved in next to him at the crowded bar and when he turned back, Ves was there. She wore a huge smile and her eyes had a confident look.
"Hi there," she said aggressively. "My name's Ves."
"Um," the man began, taken aback by the teen's boldness, but not repelled by her presence. "Carlton."
"I'm from the North American States," he began to smile. "Calgary, to be exact."
"Why are you in Japan?"
"I'm recording a series of commercials here." Carlton smiled and Ves felt herself tingle. "You don't seem Japanese."
"Brazilian," Ves replied, her confidence masking her quivering insides. "I've got a gig with the Palace." Carlton nodded, impressed. "You dance much?"
"A little," Carlton answered. "I won't win any prizes."
"Neither will I," Ves shrugged. "Wanna?"
"You're not exactly shy, are you?" Carlton smirked. Ves held his gaze.
"Why be shy if you see something you like?" she asked him.
Carlton reached out, caught Ves by the forearm and ran his hand down her arm until he reached her hand, then grasped it.
"Why indeed?" he replied. The pair moved out onto the dance floor, occupying a spot near Alpha Centauri.
Using her security code, Queen Serenity passed herself into her daughter's quarters. The Queen carried a silver tray with covered dishes. Expecting a scolding from her teenage daughter for "violating the sanctity and privacy of her quarters", the Queen instead received no acknowledgment at all. Usa was studying text on her computer workstation with single-minded intensity. Serenity bit her lip.
"Honey?" she ventured cautiously. "I brought you some dinner."
"Thanks, Mom," Usa murmured, never taking her eyes off of the computer screen. "Just set it on the table. I'll get to it."
Serenity grimaced. She set the tray down and debated on whether to leave or press the issue that was bothering her. Finally, as a way to stay in the room, she ventured up behind her daughter and peered over her shoulder at what so fascinated the girl.
"Sun Tzu?" the Queen asked. "What is he, a pop singer or something?"
"No, he's not a pop singer, Mom," Usa scowled. It was the first sign of emotion she'd seen in her daughter in a while.
"Well, who is he?" Serenity persisted. "I've never heard of him. I suppose that's not surprising."
"He was a Chinese warlord a couple of thousand years ago," Usa related. "He wrote a book called 'The Art Of War'."
"Is that what you're reading?" Serenity gasped. "Why would you be interested in something like THAT?"
"Mom," Usa sighed impatiently. "Sun Tzu has been acknowledged for centuries as one of the most brilliant battle tacticians the world has ever known."
"That's very nice for him. What does that have to do with you?"
"Because it's something I should know," Usa bristled. "Because not everybody in this universe is a nice person and if I'm going to defend the people of Crystal Tokyo and Earth one day, I really think I should know what I'm doing!"
"Honey, you don't need this," Serenity said, sitting on her daughter's bed next to her desk. "All you need is the power of your crystal and a strong enough belief in the power of love and kindness."
"Maybe that's all YOU need," Usa turned away. "Not everyone can say that."
"Honey, what is it?" her mother pleaded. "You've been like this for a month now! You hardly come out of your room. You never go out with your friends. You've hardly seen Helios at all. All you do is stay in here and work and study! What happened?"
The Queen watched helplessly as her teenage daughter just stared at the computer screen.
"I," Usa began, then hesitated. "I found out something - - about me."
"What?" Serenity asked.
Usa's mouth scrunched up. Her humiliation was like a thing alive. Serenity could sense it and she wanted to grab her child and hug her until the humiliation was smothered, but she held back, fearing it would be the wrong move.
Sensing the question wouldn't go away, Usa finally spoke. "I found out," Usa choked out, "that I'm not you. And I'm never going to be you."
Tears formed around the teen's eyelids. But they were beaten by the tears that poured down the cheeks of her mother. The Queen lunged for her daughter and hugged her to her bosom.
"Oh, Honey, you don't have to be me!" Serenity wailed. "All you have to be is you! That's enough!"
"No, it's not!" Usa argued. "How many times have you had to face threats to this world that could destroy everything? How many times have you been the only thing between everyone and annihilation, Mom? Do you think that's all going to go away when I succeed you? What is Crystal Tokyo going to do if one of those threats rolls up and I fail? How can they depend on a failure to save them and protect them?"
"Honey, you're not a failure!" Serenity sobbed. "You're already better than I ever was at so many things!"
"But not the things that count!" Usa retorted. "And that's why I have to get better. I have to do stuff like this! I have to know it all! Because I don't have that magic way of making everything better like you do. I'm not you. I can't be you - - ever." She turned back to her computer. "But that's what everybody's going to expect."
"Usa," Serenity began.
"I have to get back to work, Mom," Usa said, not facing her. "Thanks for dinner. And - - thanks for trying to cheer me up."
Serenity reached out and put her hand on her daughter's back in a show of support. When the girl didn't respond, and the Queen didn't know what else to do, she got up and forlornly glided out of the room.
Helios was in his quarters, meditating on his bed. Through this meditation, he could observe the pleasant dreams of the forty percent of the world that was indulging in them at the moment. Unobserved, Queen Serenity passed through the wall of his quarters. Normally she wouldn't do this. That's why it was so surprising, a surprise that drew the Dream Guardian from his meditation.
"Queen Serenity," he acknowledged her politely. "How may I be of service to you?"
Realizing for the first time that she'd just entered without asking, Serenity grimaced. "I'm sorry, Helios. Forgive me for intruding. That was very rude of me."
"Of course, Queen Serenity," Helios nodded. "What troubles you?"
"Usa," Serenity sighed. "Helios, what happened last month?"
She saw the Dream Guardian frown. "I apologize, Queen Serenity. Your daughter has asked me not to speak of it. She feels it best that no one else know what happened save she - - and I."
"Well, one of the things I've learned in the last seventeen years," Serenity said, gently but with an undercurrent of authority she rarely exerted, "is that my daughter doesn't always know what's best for her. Please tell me what happened, Helios."
Helios looked down. "Do you," he asked, "command it?"
"Do I have to?" Serenity sighed. "Helios, you can see what she's doing to herself. This incident, whatever it is, has begun to eat away at her. I want to help her, but I can't help her if I don't know what happened."
Helios remained silent, torn between his word and her words.
"I won't make you tell me," Serenity said, and Helios felt overwhelmed by her sorrow, for Queen Serenity had a way about her that made you loathe to displease her. "If you feel your silence is the best way to serve her, then don't tell me. Forgive me for putting you in this position."
Serenity turned and headed for the door. She was about to wave her hand over the door's sensor, something she did out of habit even though the door's sensor was strong enough to have already registered her presence.
"Queen Serenity," Helios said. She stopped and turned back to him. "I will tell you what you wish to know." The Dream Guardian ran his hand through his white mane of hair. "I doubt, though, that you will enjoy the tale."
Continued in Chapter 2