Chapter 4

After making their departure known to Usagi's mother, and that they'd likely eat out for dinner, they left the house and began to make their way to the park. Ranma was looking forward to meeting the other sailor senshi, since she'd seen so little of them back in the future. With their role as peacekeepers all but over, they were often contracted for various jobs and projects, by organizations both public and private in nature.

Despite how much technology had advanced since the twentieth century, there were still quite a number of things that the sailor senshi could do quicker and easier, and all without much — if any — demand on resources. Most of said things were space-related, usually involving the transport of supplies and equipment to a number of space stations, colonies on other planets and moons, and mining operations. It wasn't unusual for them to be hired as maintenance workers for a space station or offworld colony, if the job had to be done in the vacuum of space and/or happened to be time-sensitive.

The reason for their demand was quite simple, and understandable. To begin with, they didn't need to be supplied with oxygen, so their time wasn't limited by its rate of depletion. They also didn't need to eat, drink or sleep, and only needed a break if they worked more than their recuperative abilities could keep up with. Then there was the lack of a suit or vessel, which not only could be compromised if damaged, but were more restrictive when it came to where one could go and what one could do.

While robots were a fairly good alternative, and many more of them were employed in space than people were, they were more expensive to make and maintain. It was especially true of the latter expense, because most robots didn't have as much of a "sense" — that is to say: caution — for danger as people did, which would sooner put them out of service, either temporarily or permanently, unless nature took its course via wear and tear.

Ultimately, the sailor senshi were kept busy for the sake of good relations worldwide, providing affordable and reliable service on one front while turning their profit toward charities and various social programs on the other.

"Are you usually this quiet?" Usagi interrupted her thoughts. "Or is there something on your mind?"

Ranma glanced over at Usagi, who — because they were walking side by side — had to lean forward a bit in order to get a better look at her face. She saw that her companion, while curious, seemed reserved enough about her line of questioning that she would likely abandon either of said questions if they happened to be too personal.

Since they weren't, she had the good grace to look embarrassed as she said, "Sorry; it's a bit of both, really."

"Oh?" Usagi voiced, who hoped to pursue her latter question.

"Yeah," Ranma obliged her, who absently swept some of her hair behind an ear, looking ahead but not truly seeing. "I was just thinking that the sailor senshi are pretty amazing."

Of that, there was little doubt in her mind. Most of the sailor senshi were young girls, had become sailor senshi at an even younger age than they were now, yet they bore so much responsibility and pursued such noble causes. In their latest incarnation, they had not been born with the expectation to do anything of what they now did, and had started out as normal girls with no idea of what awaited them until circumstances had made it impossible for them to live a mundane life.

When she thought about it, it made her feel ashamed of herself. Unlike them, she had been raised from the very start to have the kind of skills and mindset to do what a sailor senshi did, despite what her father's ultimate plan for her had been. And what had she ever done with it?

If she hadn't been causing problems, to some degree or another, then she had usually been too focused on trying to resolve her own. And when she wasn't doing that, she was either trying to live idly or show off. Instead of making it a point to be selfless and constructive, in ways that very few people were in a position to match, she had often been self-absorbed and frivolous.

Her thoughts drifted to the Ginzuishou, and she began to wonder if she was even worthy of it, whether she could use it or not.

Between the words that Pandeia had last spoken, and seeing the look in her eyes, Usagi was able to interpret her thoughts with a fair amount of accuracy despite taking a different series of considerations to get there. With said interpretation in mind, she lightly touched the other girl's shoulder and guided her to a stop.

"You'll be an amazing sailor senshi yourself, someday," she softly assured her, as she stared into her eyes with both reassurance and encouragement.

The idea took Ranma by surprise. Both Usagi and Usako hadn't needed to be sailor senshi to use the Ginzuishou, and she already had some command over its power as she was, so the thought of becoming a sailor senshi had never crossed her mind. She might share a special kind of relationship with Usagi, but she didn't expect to share that kind of connection with her as well. Perhaps if she had truly been her sister, or had been — as her current guise would suggest — one of her descendants, but...

It took a moment, but she replaced the mild look of surprise on her face with one of gratitude, accepting the compliment for what it was. That seemed to settle things, and seconds later they resumed their walk, their destination unchanged and pace unhurried.

Idly, as she began to hold her first conversation with Usagi since they had left the house, about who to expect at the park, she thought, "A sailor senshi, huh?"

She wasn't sure what to think about that, regardless of whether it was possible or not. Only females could be sailor senshi, after all, and that was one complication that she could certainly do without at that particular point in time. Even if she took her situation out of the equation, could she really devote so much of her time and energy to help and protect everyone on Earth? She wouldn't have to, of course, but the others would expect no less from her, and would want to welcome her into their ranks.

Her, a sailor senshi, which could last for as long as the galaxy continued to exist. Was that the life — existence — for her? It was difficult enough to consider what might await her if her ability to use the Ginzuishou turned out to be anything like those belonging to its previous owners. And if that wasn't enough to think about, she still had a lot of learning and adapting to do, an adoption to consider, a sex to explore, and had to figure out just where — exactly — she wanted to go in life.

Seeing as how that was par for the course, she merely sighed mentally at those thoughts and hoped that things would turn out for the best.

Upon entering Amishiro park, Usagi made a beeline toward one of the nearby park benches, where Ranma saw three familiar-looking people. The only one sitting on the bench was a girl that she recognized as Ami, while Makoto and Mamoru stood nearby. Aside from their attire, they didn't look so different from their future selves that she couldn't readily identify them.

Ami was in the middle of eating a deli sandwich from its wrapper, which might have explained why she had taken a seat on the bench. Makoto and Mamoru were facing each other, and appeared to be having a light conversation. When they noticed both Usagi and herself approaching them, they ceased what they had been doing and prepared to receive them — except for Ami, who had to rise for the occasion first.

Unmindful of any audience, Usagi practically skipped over to Mamoru and shared a brief hug and kiss with him before she turned to the others and perkily said, "Guys, this is Pandeia."

After voicing their greetings together, Makoto casually asked the first — and most obvious — question. "So, you're Chibi-Usa's kid, huh?"

It took a second for Ranma to realize who Makoto had been referring to, since she'd only known "Usako" as the nickname of Usagi's daughter. "Is that what people call mom these days?"

The conversation proceeded naturally from there, which didn't delve too deeply into any particular subject, but it wasn't long before Mamoru had to excuse himself. He'd only been able to make a brief appearance because he had a class to go to in the afternoon, as a student of the prestigious Keio university, but he had promised to make more time for her before making his exit.

His leave-taking was a good excuse as any to proceed to their next destination, the Hikawa shrine, so they could really begin their excursion. While Rei was one among many who couldn't back out of a prior commitment that day, she was the only one whom they could still spend some of their time with: because Minako had gone to see a concert, saying that she might turn up for dinner, while the other four no-shows had planned a family outing in Kyoto that would last the entire weekend.

Along the way, the subjects of their conversation were mostly inspired by the sights that they passed by. They weren't of any particular interest to Ranma, but she handled it politely and enjoyed the bits concerning places where a notable event had happened in their lives, which were often at someone's expense — usually Usagi's. The good-natured ribbing was infectious, and she found herself joining in just prior to reaching their destination.

As they ascended the steep flight of stairs that led up to the area where the main shrine was located, along with its attendant buildings and accommodations, Usagi brought up what had happened to her when she had visited the shrine for the first time. When she began to recount the part where Rei had planted an ofuda right between her eyes, a familiar sound drew Ranma's gaze skyward, where two crows were circling above them.

"That must be Phobos and Deimos," she thought, unable to help a smile.

When she had initially begun to spend some of her time beyond the palace grounds, Phobos and Deimos had acted as both guides and advisors. Not only due to the fact that they were the most accessible among the group of people that Usagi trusted the most, since they mostly concerned themselves with Rei's workload only, but because their small size made it easy for them to hide, thus leaving very little chance that anyone would see them and wonder who she was beyond being a new face.

After Usagi, she'd had more contact with Phobos and Deimos than anyone else. The time that they had spent together, at first, had been due to Rei's instruction. However, she was pretty sure that they had become friends, since they had still met and hung out regularly enough after she had no longer needed their services. It upset her a bit that she couldn't be absolutely certain about their relationship, like she could with her potential mother-to-be, but her past experiences with "friendship" had left its mark on her.

Her observation must have caught the attention of the Coronis-born twins, because they ceased circling above their heads and dove toward them instead — or, to be more specise, they dove toward her. Hoping for the best, since she'd just heard about Usagi's first encounter with them, she stopped climbing the stairs and held out her arm as a perch. Since they had yet to meet her, she was uncertain how things would turn out.

The others, having noticed her actions, had enough time to either look at her or the approaching crows before said crows landed on her arm.

She smiled with relief as she regarded Phobos and Deimos, glad that her uncertainty had been unfounded. What she didn't know was that they had learned about her impending visit, and that her smile — which they had perceived as being from someone seeing a friend — had decided their course of action. Also, they now knew better about the kind of feeling that people like Usagi and herself gave off, to mistake her as a potential enemy.

"Do you know them?" Usagi asked, with a confused expression on her face, upon seeing how familiar Pandeia was being with Phobos and Deimos.

"This is their first time meeting me," Ranma replied, before self-consciously adding, "but we're friends in the future."

Makoto smiled at that. "Can't be separated by time, huh?"

Deimos, being the closer of the two sisters to Ranma's head, hopped onto her shoulder and nudged her head against her cheek before she and her sister flew off. Between that and Makoto's comment, Ranma's cheeks had become rather flush, much to everyone else's good-natured amusement.

When the group finally reached the landing at the top of the stairs, it didn't take them long to find Rei. She was currently dressed as a miko and acting as the sole attendant of the shrine's small store, which sold various souvenirs and omamori from its storefront window. At present, she was being occupied by a customer, and there were a pair of them awaiting their own turn to purchase something.

Since they couldn't predict when potential customers of the store might choose to do their business, they moved to the back of the line and hoped for the best. Fortunately, by the time that they had made it to the window, no one else had added themselves to the line. It wasn't too unexpected, however, since there weren't that many people visiting the shrine at that exact moment.

Rei smiled pleasantly and offered a short bow in greeting when she saw the stranger among her friends, which wasn't performed for the sake of keeping up with the appearance of her current station. "Pandeia, I presume?"

Ranma returned the bow and said, "It's nice to meet you, Rei-san."

"Likewise," Rei replied, as she looked over the other girl appraisingly. "That said, Granny hasn't been giving you too much trouble, has she?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Came Usagi's indignant response, her arms now akimbo.

"See?" Rei stated, who made an idle gesture with her hand, toward Usagi, before shaking her head sadly. "She's so far gone that she's forgotten what our words mean."

Usagi puffed out her cheeks upon hearing that, and it took her a second to rally a comeback. "But I'm not the one who sounds like a stuffy, old maid."

One of Rei's eyebrows began to tick, which didn't do the fake smile on her face any favors. "Who sounds like a stuffy, old maid?"

"Now, now," Ami interjected, who seemed equal parts amused and exasperated by their behavior.

The exchange between Usagi and Rei had left Ranma feeling a bit sad, as well as envious. Whether she had gone about it wrong, or the other side of the equation — usually Akane or Ryoga — hadn't been able to take a joke, her attempts to have the same kind of byplay had rarely met with anything remotely resembling success. Now, she would never know if it would have ever worked out with those in her prior life; she could only hope that she would have more success with the group of people that she found herself associating with in her new life.

Since Rei was the only one with a clear view of her face, she was the one who noted the expression on it. Because she felt fairly concerned by what she saw, she asked, "Is something the matter? I didn't offend you, did I?"

Ranma tried to mount what she hoped would be a convincing smile of reassurance, since she had failed to hide her feelings only seconds ago, which had caused the unwanted attention that she now faced. "Ah, uh, no. I just got a little distracted."

She wasn't sure if anyone had bought her excuse, but no one seemed inclined to pursue the issue either way. Instead, they spent the next few minutes chatting idly, with some subjects from before being brought up again for Rei's sake, before a new customer forced the miko to end their little get-together and prioritize her current duty at the shrine.

It was disappointing to leave so soon, but she reminded herself that it was only her first day in the past, and that there would be another opportunity to socialize with Rei. Since Sailor Mars had been the first sailor senshi that she had ever met in person, it had left a bit of an impression on her, so she was a little partial when it came to wanting to interact with her. Phobos and Deimos worked under her as well, so she had even more reason to be interested.

For now, though, she hoped to enjoy a tour of the area, see some of the girls' haunts, and get to know Makoto, Ami and — this time's — Usagi better.

The next several hours passed by at a rather unexpected rate, which Ranma attributed to having both good company and a few notable, fun distractions. They had mainly kept to the shopping district and residential area of Azabu-Jūban, but they had made plans to explore other nearby places within Minato, as well as other parts of Tokyo, at a later date.

Along the way they had stopped by Makoto's apartment, where she had insisted on taking a short break and having some tea and snacks. They had also passed by the condominium where Ami lived, who had felt — with some embarrassment — that the detour wouldn't be worth it just to show Ranma around her home, but had otherwise assured the other girl that she could visit under different circumstances.

During the later half of the afternoon, they had stopped by the Crown arcade, where they had ended up playing various games until the evening. While Ranma was no stranger to video games, she'd never had much opportunity to play them, but Usagi had nonetheless been impressed when she had gotten good enough to beat her at everything that the arcade had to offer, by the time that they had finished playing around — though not without some half-hearted lamentation. Ami had them all beat, however, which had struck Ranma as being a bit odd, considering how she was such a studious and academic-oriented girl.

While at the arcade, she had been introduced to Furuhata Motoki, the manager of the arcade whose family owned both the arcade and the cafe next door. He was one of the few normal people who knew the sailor senshi's identities, which was just as well since their secret base of operations was right beneath their feet. She found him easy to talk to, and it didn't take her long to understand why he had been trusted with the sailor senshi's secret instead of being brainwashed to forget about it.

Everyone had been ready to eat by the time that they'd had their fill of playing games, so they had all gone over to the Crown's cafe for dinner, seeing as it was close by and a favorite of the group — save Ranma, who had never been there before. Once they had chosen a place to sit, Motoki's younger sister, Unazuki, had appeared as their waitress. Like her brother, Ranma also found her to be a likeable person, if a bit more outgoing and personable.

It was while they had been waiting for their meal that Usagi had received a call from Minako, via the communicator in her watch, asking if it was too late to join them. Since that hadn't been the case, Usagi had told her their location and ordered a meal for her. By the time that she had arrived, everyone had already been served and her own meal had been waiting for her.

Among those that she had met so far, Ranma had found Minako to be the only one that she had felt any real reservation toward. It might have had something to do with her being charged up from the concert, but if her marathon of admiration for the "hot" lead singer of the band was any indication of how she behaved normally... Well, at least for now, she really wanted to avoid the subject of "boys" in general, until she knew how to deal with it both politely and tactfully.

By the time that she and Usagi had to return home, however, some of her misgivings about Minako had vanished, as she had proved — with her initial mood, at least — to be far too friendly and silly to keep at arm's length. She had brought a jolt of energy to the group, which had affected Usagi the most, followed — to a lesser extent — by Makoto. Even Ami had not been left untouched by it, who had begun to speak more often and less formally.

Still, some was hardly all. She hadn't liked the look in Minako's eyes when Usagi had mentioned what her fictional — though not exactly incorrect — lifestyle had been until recently, nor had she cared to see the same look reflected in Usagi's eyes when Minako had suggested that they help her to get in touch with her feminine side. If she had been a little wiser, she probably wouldn't have voiced her disinterest in having a romantic relationship when the topic had been brought up in short order, which had inspired Makoto — who had a keen interest in getting married — to join them in their scheming.

Thankfully, Ami had acted as the voice of reason, and had taken the wind out of their sails before they could build up a lot of steam. It was then that she had learned about Rei being the same way as herself, more or less), since it had been a part of Ami's rebuke. Minako had pouted over the idea of there being "another Rei," and had bemoaned the possibility that she might also have no interest in boys yet still attract — and take advantage of — all of them.

Following that last bit of information, Ranma had amended her earlier assessment of "more or less," and had grown even more interested in Rei.

Later that night, as she reflected upon everything that had happened that day, she felt that the only real down side was the fact that she was there, in the process of going to sleep in her new bed, while the sailor senshi were taking care of criminals. Between all of the changes in her life, and the kind of company that she had been keeping as of late, it now felt natural wanting to do the same thing, rather than wasting her talents by doing little more than showcasing what she could do for the sake of her ego.

Fortunately, she was going to be put through a battery of tests as soon as they could be arranged, to see if she could help out the sailor senshi despite not having the various protections and abilities that came with being one herself. Unfortunately, even if she happened to be up to snuff, her inability to be around cats would mean making a number of accommodations just for her sake, since Luna and Artemis were primarily the ones who collected data on their targets and made the plans. They also tended to help out during the missions, because they could erect protective barriers much like Saturn and Pluto could.

Annoyed by the thought that her ailurophobia was once again going to become an inconvenience in her life, she turned onto her side in a huff. Not for the first time did she wonder whether she would ever overcome the greatest trauma of her life, especially after the experts in the future had only been able to offer a risky — and thus highly unrecommended — solution, the only one that had any chance of having an effect due to the extreme and exotic nature of her condition.

At that moment she felt her guide's presence grow stronger. However, instead of being there to comfort her, as she would have expected, she committed an act that she rarely ever did: she spoke.

"Allow me to help you," her guide gently offered.

The significance of the situation inspired Ranma to sit up in her bed and project the thought, "Help me? Help me with what?"

"With your fear," came the simple response.

That brought Ranma up a bit short. "You can do that?"

The next response seemed to come hesitantly. "...I can."

"How?" Ranma wondered, who felt confused as well as a little put out. "And why wait until now to mention it?"

"With my memories," her guide calmly answered, "which took me some time to sort out and put together."

Ranma sighed with disappointment. "But they said that that probably wouldn't work."

She remembered quite well what she had been told about her best bet. Ordinarily, if she had seen a cat in someone else's memories, she would have still reacted with fear. In order to experience the memory without the fear, she would have to be put into an altered state of mind, where her identity would be suppressed while she was made to believe that she was another person. Basically, it meant, "I do not fear the cat, because I am not myself."

However, while doctors in the future had much of the brain figured out down to a science, there were still some things that they had yet to completely grasp, and the persona of a person was one of them — which was, in this case, not helped by the laws that prohibited such tampering of the brain. Not only had the treatment been given a fairly low chance of success, but no one could have said what the unintended side-effects might have been, whether the treatment had been a success or not, regarding how her mind would decide to interpret the experience once she was in her right mind again.

And that was before taking into consideration the fact that her experience with the neko-ken "training" had been so traumatic that it had left its mark on her star seed. Compared to what was known about the brain, next to nothing was known about star seeds, aside from knowing why they were present and what certain ones were capable of doing. Regardless of what happened with her brain, after receiving the treatment, there was no telling how her star seed might come into play, either during or after the process.

Simply put: there were too many unknowns and uncertainties to prescribe the treatment with any amount of confidence. So, why would her guide even suggest it?

"That, they did," her guide agreed, "but that assessment did not take me into consideration. I'm confident that my memories will work."

Ranma did her best to suppress her excitement, and quietly considered accepting her guide's help. On one hand, her guide had been both helpful and reliable, which was why she had any excitement to suppress in the first place. On the other hand, her guide had been responsible for her long "vacation" in the crystal, which was something that she hadn't completely come to terms with yet. It was strange enough to consider having someone else's memories in her head, without also having to worry about that going too far.

Her guide seemed to sense what was on her mind, because she said, "I swear that you will dream of nothing more than pleasant memories of cats."

Ranma considered her offer seriously, weighing the potential risks with the desired benefits, before coming to a decisions. Upon doing so, she closed her eyes and softly stated, "Alright. I'll trust you."

She laid back down, pulled her blanket up to her shoulders from her waist, and tried to get some sleep. However, the knowledge of what lay ahead of her produced mixed feelings: nervousness driven by doubt, and excitement borne of optimism. That made falling asleep a bit problematic, to say the very least.

Once she was finally at rest, the incorporeal form of her guide's hand reached out, toward her head, and simulated a few tender caresses before she whispered, "This much should be fine."