I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi, Naoko Takeuchi, or anything in the GURPS Ogre, GURPS Reign of Steel, and GURPS Tales of the Solar Patrol settings published by Steve Jackson Games. Everything else is mine.


Japan, what used to be a Buddhist temple not far from the Nekomi Institute of Technology, now Sanctuary, 2072:

Pluto stood where she had been when the other-dimensional Senshi had upended her world a minute and a half ago (or many hours, for her), waiting anxiously, almost unaware of Belldandy and Skuld standing by her — it was taking longer than she would have liked, her counterpart was giving her a wider margin than she really needed. Courteous, perhaps, but Uranus and Neptune were fighting for their lives and losing, and she was already a minute past the point when she'd intended to intervene. If they didn't arrive in the next thirty seconds —

ALERT! DIMENSIONAL INCURSION! ALERT! DIMENSIONAL INCURSION! ALERT! The eagerly awaited alert from the Time Gates pounded in her head, and she grinned. At last! She waited those additional thirty seconds to give all the newcomers a chance to arrive, then without bothering to say goodbye to her Norn friends, she stepped away to the Time Gates and brought up the image of the new portal. The same place as the last one, of course, thanks to the way Serenity had ordered the Gates be hardwired it couldn't be anywhere else (orders that had been at Setsuna's request in order to limit her own power, something she had regretted often over the millennia — being able to shift others anywhere she wished would have been useful).

She'd timed it right, all the newcomers had arrived in their civilian identities (and some excellent disguises). Their portal was shut down, and they had spread out in a circle watching around them. She instantly stepped out to appear in the middle of the circle. "Pluto!" she called, ignoring the way most of the others whipped around at the sound of her voice to focus on her counterpart (though she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Ranma, Minako and Michiru, at least, kept their attention outward).

Her counterpart stumbled as she'd twisted in place, smiled wryly as she recovered at her old joke turned around on her, and Pluto shouted, "Uranus is in trouble, we need to go now!"

Past Pluto nodded. "Princess, you know what to do."

And with that both Plutos stepped away.

/\

Sailor Uranus crouched behind a pile of newly-created rubble, cursing silently to herself. Her and her lover's part of the plan, to suck the Tokyo Zonemind's immediate resources away from the Resistance's true targets, had been going well — as it turned out, a little too well. The latest oversized patrol they had encountered was bigger than expected by an order of magnitude, and while the resulting extensive damage to the urbanscape was irrelevant (except insofar as it made it somewhat harder for the Machines to maneuver), she had taken some serious hits. From the stabbing pain whenever she moved and blood dribbling from her mouth the results included broken ribs and a punctured lung, and she suspected further internal damage as well.

Before the Rise of the Machines, that wouldn't have been a problem — just find a private spot to hide and wait for her Senshi healing to take care of it before transforming back into her civilian form. Unfortunately the Time Bitch had been right when she warned the Senshi that the Tokyo Zonemind had some way of tracking their Senshi forms. Somehow, she and Neptune were going to have to decisively break contact long enough for at least the punctured lung to heal before shifting back if she was going to survive. And she didn't see any way for them to do it.

Of course, Neptune can break contact easily enough, if I stay behind. Yeah, like that was going to happen. Still, she had to try.

Gritting her teeth, Uranus rolled to the edge of the rubble pile, biting back a shriek of pain as the edges of her broken ribs scraped against each other and sliced further into tissue and lung. At the moment, silence meant survival — the two Outers had cleared out all of the three-legged Stalker robots in the piece of Tokyo they'd claimed as their own (the security/patrol robots were dangerous enough against regular humans, but no match for the Saotomes, Morisatos, or Senshi), but she didn't think they'd managed to eliminate all of the more dangerous human-sized eight-limbed spider-like Tarantulas that had taken over the Stalkers' scouting role. And while the rubble pile was too thick for the Tarantulas' thermograph sensors to see through, their hearing was very sensitive.

She waited a long minute until she was certain that she could stay quiet, then carefully peeked around the edge of her hiding place — no Tarantulas in sight, just three of the fifteen-foot tall armored humanoid Hoplites whose presence indicated just how thoroughly the two Outers had gotten the Tokyo Zonemind's attention. Dangerous to the Senshi — especially their IMLs (infantry missile launchers, the Senshi's uniforms didn't handle explosive warheads as well as their standard laser carbines, something the devoutly hoped the Zonemind hadn't picked up on) — but not as sensitive to sounds. Good enough.

She rolled away from the edge again, waited until the latest wave of pain receded, and summoned her Senshi communicator (so far, at least, the zonemind hadn't given any indication that he could detect those in operation, so they had limited secure communications). "Neptune," she murmured as quietly as she could and still be audible, "are you good?"

After a long moment of silence, Neptune's voice sounded in her earbud. "Yes, love, you?"

"Afraid not. I'm pinned and wounded, I can't revert and live, and I'm not going to be able to hide much longer. Go, love, you have to get away. If you're still out here, maybe you can keep up enough pressure for Mercury's plan to work."

"Let you leave me behind? Forget it, love, you aren't going anywhere without me."

"But Mercury's plan —"

"She'll just have to come up with a new one. She's a smart woman, she'll manage. Where are you?"

"Michiru, please —"

A scraping sound above her followed by several chunks of concrete bouncing off her head and shoulder caught her attention, and she looked up to find herself staring at the steel barrel-body of a Tarantula, its mounted gauss rifle swiveled to point at her head. Sorry, love, but it looks like I'll be leaving you behind, after —

"Dead scream."

Uranus jerked, caught by surprise by the words she hadn't heard in decades — since before her foster-daughter's offering up as a sacrifice — as a purple ball of energy slammed into the side of the robot above her, sending two of its legs flying away. Off-balance, it titled forward and tumbled down toward the blonde Senshi, and a thin shriek of pain ripped from her throat as hands grabbed her and yanked her out of the way. "Neptune, get here now or be left behind!" came the shout in a voice etched by heartbreak into her memory.

Uranus ignored the pain ripping through her to twist against the hands pulling her along. Looking back at where she'd been, she saw one of the giant Hoplites loom over the rubble pile they'd just abandoned, its arm ending in its mounted laser carbine swinging toward them — and another glowing purple ball of pure power came in from off to the side to slam into it, hitting one of its IML tubes. The resulting explosion as the missile cooked off in its launcher tore away the arm and knocked it off its feet, and it vanished from sight with a grinding crash.

Then a wide-eyed Neptune seemed to appear out of nowhere, pulling Uranus to her feet, then scooping her up when one of her legs tried to give out — Uranus hadn't even noticed the deep almost gushing wound in her thigh. "Where to?" the fuku-clad seaweed-green-haired woman demanded.

"Here!" That hated voice again, but not from the direction the last dead scream had come from, what was going on? Uranus whimpered as she twisted in her lover's arms, and found the familiar emerald-haired figure in her white-and-black fuku, standing by a swirling gray vertical flat oval like Uranus had never seen. Pluto was nowhere near ... Uranus twisted again, looked where the dead scream had come from, and her eyes widened as she saw a second Pluto running toward them, shouting, "Go! Go!"

Neptune ran through the portal, as gently as she could, but Uranus's sight still went white with pain. When her vision cleared, she saw a blasted, misty landscape surrounding the Time Gates — and a cot? Neptune all but tip-toed over to the cot and laid Uranus down on it, then knelt and wiped at the blood running from her lover's mouth with a white-gloved hand while her other hand sought out one of Uranus's. She whispered, "Still with us, love?"

Uranus gave her a miniscule nod, then looked past her with questioning eyes at the pair of Plutos that stepped up behind Neptune.

"You'll have answers in a little while," one Pluto said. "But for now, just relax while your body heals."

Uranus nodded again, and closed her eyes to rest as best she could, clutching Neptune's hand as the pain slowly faded.

/oOo\

Hotaru was finding it very hard to continue just lying where she was tucked against what was left of a large home's outer wall. She glanced around at those others of her friends and family that she could see scattered about before staring again at what was left of the inner wall. Like her, the rest were tucked away where any of the Machines passing by wouldn't be able to see them through empty windows and over what was left of the walls. Everyone else was as still and silent as she was, and had to be as tense. Waiting.

Once Setsuna-mama had vanished with her counterpart Usagi had followed their previously worked out plan of shifting south and holing up until the Plutos rejoined them with this world's versions of her Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama. The youngest Senshi had never before felt as vulnerable as she had during that journey — they had all been in their civilian disguises to avoid detection, and most of the robots that haunted Tokyo's ruins had weapons that could open up a normal human like a gutted fish with a single shot. Setsuna-mama had carefully looked over their route for Machine scouts before they left the Time Gates, of course, and hadn't found any, but she'd pointed out one of the Time Gate's biggest limitations was human — she couldn't look everywhere.

So they'd made the journey to the general area for the rendezvous (and miles away from the spot where they'd been in Senshi form, however briefly) as quickly as they could while keeping nerve-wrackingly alert and stealthy, holed up in the first decent location they could find that could keep all of them more or less together and out of sight, and waited like rabbits absolutely still and silent in the undergrowth as they hid from the sharp eyes of a circling hawk — for hours. Setsuna-mama had called to let everyone know the rescue operation had gone off flawlessly even before they'd laagered up, but they hadn't heard anything since and her mind had insisted on coming up with ever more extreme ways the Plutos and her other mothers' counterparts could be ambushed while they travelled to join them.

Hotaru's mouth quirked in what could charitably be called a faint sympathetic smile as she considered the others. Ranma must be in hell. The momentary humor faded fast, though, as her thoughts returned to the people not there.

Then between one breath and the next Setsuna was there, standing against the inner wall. It was all Hotaru could do not to squeal in pleasure as her Setsuna-mama glanced around the room, recognizable in her ragged and dirty civilian identity and carrying her own assault rifle.

"Everyone can relax," she said in a normal conversational volume, "I've checked everywhere around here thoroughly, we're clear for now."

Even as the others were standing Hotaru slammed into her Setsuna-mama. As her unofficial foster mother's arms circled her, she was surprised to realize that she was shivering slightly.

"Firefly, are you all right?" Setsuna murmured.

Hotaru nod jerkily, whispering, "I was worried about you, Mama."

"We're all fine, the others will be here at any moment," Setsuna assured her. "In fact, here they are." She let go of Hotaru as several thuds sounded behind her, gently turning the suddenly stiff girl around to face three newcomers.

The three were frozen in place where they'd landed from their leaps over the outer wall, also in their civilian identities, and Hotaru instantly realized that she'd never have trouble distinguishing her own people from the Senshi native to this dimension. It wasn't just that the older Senshi weren't wearing the same clothing as her own, or even that Haruka and Michiru's hair looked like someone had been hacking at it with a knife. If they'd had exactly the same clothing and hairstyle, she'd still have been able to pick them out — they looked tired, and their eyes looked ... haunted, even when (in the cases of Haruka and Michiru) opened wide and staring at her, set in faces gone pale.

Hotaru spread her arms in invitation, and instantly future Haruka and Michiru were there, arms wrapped around her in a bone-creaking group hug, the two literally shaking, murmuring her name over and over.

They finally, reluctantly let go of their dead daughter's counterpart, the three streaking their faces when they rubbed at the tracks tears had cut through the dirt on their cheeks, and Hotaru looked past them at the future Setsuna. The older woman had been standing back, wistfully watching the sort-of-reunion. Her wistful expression vanished when Hotaru stepped past the others to pull her into her own tight hug. The Senshi of Time's arms circled her gently, carefully, as if she would shatter at the least hint of pressure.

Good enough for now, Hotaru thought when she eventually broke the hug and looked up at a face stiff with the effort to keep an emotionless mask — Setsuna couldn't hide her moist eyes. Better later.

She turned to look at the rest (and noticed that the four's cheeks weren't the only ones with newly streaked dirt, even Ranma's). "It's getting toward evening, are we camping here tonight?" she asked, glancing up at the sky and grimacing. It was late enough in the year that sleeping in the open with just a blanket wouldn't be too bad, but the now-overcast sky hinted at the reason why they were using blankets — soaked sleeping bags were heavy, not to mention miserable to sleep in when one hadn't had the opportunity to dry them out.