As Charon was led by Pluto down the long, column-lined passageway on the other side of the Door of Time, she wondered about many things. Where were they, and where were they going? What were they going to do about the dead people behind them? When were her abilities going to be unsealed? Why had Pluto merely knocked out the guy who had been controlling Cepheus, instead of killing him? And — for that matter — why was she wearing the circlet that seemed to control the other sailor senshi?
As if reading her mind, Pluto spoke up and said, "I imagine you're wondering about the situation, and what's going on."
"Well, yeah..." She replied, somewhat sarcastically.
Pluto chuckled lightly at her response. "Well, to help you understand a few things, I'll need to give you a little history lesson first."
They came to a branch in their path, where they could either continue ahead or turn right, and Pluto chose the latter. It was a corridor, much the same as anything else that Charon had seen of the place so far, except that there appeared to be a few doors evenly spaced across either side of its length.
"Right now," Pluto began, without a change in her stride or turning her attention away from what was ahead of them, "we're currently on the Earth's moon, in the palace that was once the capital of the former Moon Kingdom."
Charon blinked her eyes in confusion, since she had expected something different, something more... alien. "We're on the moon? And when was there ever a Moon Kingdom?"
"The Moon Kingdom existed a long time ago," Pluto replied, who didn't seem to mind the interruption. "With the exception of the Earth, which had been ruled by the Golden Kingdom at the time, the Moon Kingdom's domain had extended throughout the solar system. They had both fallen, of course, and much about them had either been completely destroyed or lost to time."
"That had once included this palace," she went on. "However, during Sailor Moon's battle with Metallia, she had unwittingly restored it with the power of the Silver Moon Crystal. She didn't want to revive the Moon Kingdom, or live here, so it had been abandoned. Since its security system had also been fully restored, it seemed fine to leave this place unattended."
"Apparently not," Charon quipped, as she started to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. "So, basically, you're saying that the Door of Time was compromised because this place was rebuilt and failed to keep people out of it?"
"Pretty much," Pluto agreed.
They came upon another intersection, except that this one offered three choices instead of two, with the way ahead leading to a stairway that granted access to the floor above them. Pluto chose to go right once again, which happened to be yet another corridor.
"Where we're at right now," she began to explain, "which is several levels below the lunar surface, had remained largely intact after the palace had been destroyed. Before the palace had been restored, there had been no conventional way to get here, so I hadn't been too concerned about anyone discovering it and finding their way inside, much less figuring out how to access the Door of Time."
"I see," Charon replied, as she glanced at her Obsidian Oar thoughtfully. "So, our tools aren't unique to us as sailor senshi?"
"That's right," Pluto confirmed. "The scepter that Cepheus had used was not a part of her usual inventory, which means that it must have been made with the information that can be found in the main computer here."
Since Charon had assumed that Pluto had arrived on the scene shortly before she had knocked out the man from the Cepheid Kingdom, after Cepheus had traded in her scepter for the sword, she stared at her suspiciously and responded in an accusatory tone. "Just how long had you been hiding and watching before you decided to make an appearance?"
Pluto stopped in front of a large, ornate door, then turned to face her with one of her eyebrows cocked. "I went to investigate the situation as soon as I felt the Door of Time being unlocked. I figured that it wouldn't hurt to see how you handled things on your own, since I knew how to end the fight quickly so long as I had the element of surprise."
Charon was a little mollified by that, but disappointed with herself nonetheless. "Still, I would have preferred it if I had won."
Pluto shook her head with some exasperation. "Like I said: you can hardly be faulted for your performance." To try and assuage Charon's feelings on the matter, she soothingly added, "Besides, it was fortunate that they had come when they did: because they had been expecting me, not you. It may have even been better this way than if we had both been there upon their arrival."
"If you say so," Charon finally relented, with a slight smile.
Pluto returned the smile before she brought her attention back to the door, which she opened and stepped through without ceremony. Charon followed after her, but paused upon entering the room while her companion continued onward. What she saw would have reminded her of one of those mission control centers, had she had time to recall something that she had only seen once before (and briefly, at that), only far more advanced-looking.
At the other end of the room, and dominating the majority of the wall there, was what appeared to be a very large (but currently inactive) screen. Between it and her were several rows worth of workstations, each with computer terminals built into them. The walls to either side of her were like the workstations, except continuous along each wall and having many more monitors above them.
Once she'd seen enough of what there was to see, she returned her attention to Pluto, who had seated herself at the nearest workstation. She went over to her to see what she was doing, as she worked at the computer terminal, but she didn't recognize or understand anything that was being displayed on the screen.
She was just about to ask her what she was doing, out of curiosity, when her companion chose that time to say, "Now, as for the Cepheid Kingdom: it's been around for a while, and even predates the Moon and Golden kingdoms by some time. Back then, we had a neutral relationship with them. Mostly, it was because of the great distance between us, but our relatively small size and youth didn't draw much attention. The only thing that made this solar system worthy of any outside interest was the power of the Silver Moon Crystal, and a few thwarted incursions by seemingly superior nations — and no acts of aggression on our part — all but ensured a neutral or better standing with us."
"Anyway," she went on, as she continued to work at the computer terminal, "Cepheus had been under the control of its royalty even in those days, but that hadn't always been the case. She had once ruled over their entire homeworld, in a manner not so unlike that of a tyrant. However, when she had begun to recognize the advancement of technology as a threat to her position, the atrocities that she had committed — in an attempt to strip away centuries of scientific advancement — had ensured a rather vindictive and ironic fate for her."
She stilled her hands, and looked up at Charon with a serious expression on her face. "So, when you see this circlet, the last thing that you should feel for her is sympathy. The people of the Cepheid Kingdom still remember what she had done to their ancestors, and still bear some of the scars from that time, so they would not have been very happy with us if we had killed her."
Charon was too taken aback to speak, so she didn't. She had been under the impression that sailor senshi were supposed to be protectors and saviors, not villains or monsters. She wondered what kind of sailor senshi that made her, then, since she'd already wished trouble upon herself for the sake of relieving boredom.
As Pluto returned her attention to the computer, and put her hands back to work, she said, "Since her enslavement, Cepheus has been reserved as a sort of symbol for the king's good will, especially once their technology had advanced to the point where her offensive capabilities had been made redundant. Between that, and wanting to expose her status to as many people as possible, it became a tradition to include her on diplomatic missions."
Charon's brow furrowed as she puzzled out what she was being told. "Wait... Since she's here, you're saying that they hadn't come here to use the Door of Time?"
Pluto nodded her head, as she continued to operate the computer. "We'll know for sure in a minute, but I doubt that they had learned about the Door of Time prior to their arrival. That, and most of the wounds inflicted upon the dead had come from either the back or the side, which suggests that they may have played out their roles under duress and hadn't been needed after fulfilling them."
Charon nodded her head at that, with a grim expression on her face. "So, what are we going to do with that guy?"
"He knows things that he shouldn't," she replied evenly. "Under normal circumstances he would have already been dead, but being a royal from Cepheid complicates matters. He had been sent here with Cepheus for a reason; depending on what that is, and what kind of evidence we find for his activities, it would be best to leave his fate in the hands of his own people."
"At the very least," she went on, "we will have to erase all memory of his and her time here. I dare do no more than that: because I haven't kept up with recent events in the Cepheid Kingdom, to the extent that I'm unsure of what kind of actions I can take without making the Earth an innocent target of a multi-stellar kingdom's hostile response."
Charon locked onto one particular piece of information and warily asked, "You can do that? Erase memories, I mean?"
Pluto nodded her head absently in response and casually said, "Erase, hide, manipulate, invent; there's little that can't be done, really."
"I see..." Charon replied, clearly unsettled by that information.
Pluto smiled crookedly, with some amusement, and tried to put her mind at ease. "I wouldn't worry about it. Such practices aren't the sort of thing employed lightly, much less made available outside of very specific situations. More often than not, they are only applied upon request, or with permission."
Charon had just begun to wonder who would want their mind messed with, and why, when Pluto perked up and said, "Ah, now this looks promising."
As soon as she had finished saying that, most of the user interface was lost to a video that began to display a spaceship making a landing on the lunar surface. Charon had never seen anything like it before, and quickly forgot about the last subject, as well as any questions pertaining to it.
Several smaller windows were also on the screen, which displayed the same scene from multiple angles, and Charon watched as she saw several figures disembark from the vessel. She recognized all of them easily enough, seeing as none seemed to be wearing anything different — or extra — in order to leave the environment of their ship. Audio was also included with the video, and it somehow managed to pick up what was being spoken by them despite their current location. Not that it really mattered to her, since she couldn't understand a word being said anyway.
When the figures in the video had entered the palace, Pluto paused it and sounded rather relieved as she leaned into the back of her chair said, "This is exactly what we needed. The security footage could have been deleted easily enough, but all of it was left intact. It seems that the concern just expressed by some of the crew — regarding their actions — is an indication of why."
"Did they mention what they were supposed to be doing?" Charon inquired, not surprised that Pluto could understand their language.
Pluto shook her head, before she sat up and began to operate the computer once again, which saw a return of the text and symbols that Charon didn't understand. "Not yet. Rather than look through all of the security footage to find out, though, I'm going to revive someone who can do that for us in a fraction of a second."
Charon blinked her eyes incredulously and asked, "Revive? Who?"
Pluto chuckled lightly and said, "You'll see."
Since there was nothing to see as of yet, and that continued to be the case a minute or so later, Charon found herself turning her attention elsewhere and wandering away aimlessly. She knew better than to touch anything, so she ended up pursuing more of a mental activity than a physical one, now that she had another chance to reflect on recent events.
Frankly, she felt rather uncertain (not scared, of course) about where her life was headed. While it was great that she would get a chance to change her fate from the one that she had seen through another's eyes, she had to wonder what kind of person she would become instead. Not only was it due to her current body feeling more natural than what she actually considered to be her natural body, but she suspected that she would be spending a lot of her time as a girl for the foreseeable future, in order to ensure that the changes to said future wouldn't cause any of the major consequences that one could expect from a poorly-managed application of time travel.
No matter what might happen, would it be alright so long as she was able to express how she truly felt about Akane? She didn't know. What if she could do that, after doing everything that needed to be done to change their respective futures, and she was rejected? Would it be alright — or wise — to share with Akane the fact that she was a sailor senshi, or would she end up living a double life, spending an inordinate amount of time away while hardly any time at all passed by for her prospective wife?
In a way, the big question mark that loomed ahead of her was more worthy of apprehension than the future that she had been made aware of. For all that she knew, things could change for the worse for either herself or Akane, rather than for the better. Also, while she didn't want to admit it, she was worried about the kind of person that she might become. Her future self might very well come to accept or like herself when all was said and done, but the thought of becoming that person — at that exact moment — made her... uneasy.
It was all up in the air and undecided, of course, but that was a part of the problem: because — deep down — there was a lot of uncertainty about what she wanted to do with herself. She could assert whatever she thought she wanted, but she was well aware that life wasn't always so easy or forgiving, and she had to deal with things that most normal people would probably never imagine being a possible part of their lives.
Immortality? Reincarnation? Time travel? A sex-changing curse? Extrastellar civilizations? Being a sailor senshi? Those were just some of the more notable things that either have, might or will affect the course of her life, as well as what kind of person she would become. Despite being more experienced than most of humanity when it came to such things, she still had next to no idea about how events might play out for her, regardless of whatever notion or expectation that she held for her future.
She was pulled away from her thoughts when she heard a new voice suddenly say, "It has been a very long time, Sailor Pluto."
When she sought out its source, what she found looked like a ghost, since she could see through it despite the fairly strong glow that it appeared to be emitting. Whatever it was, it assumed the form of a tall, beautiful woman, who had her long, silver-colored hair done up in a familiar hairstyle, and wore a resplendent yet simple white gown.
Unable to contain her incredulity, she found herself blurting out, "Did you just revive a ghost?"
"...Of sorts," Pluto replied facetiously.
Regardless of whether the apparition was a ghost or not, she had apparently caught her attention, who had to turn away from the still-seated Pluto in order to regard her. Now that she could see it, the woman had a rather pleasant and matronly visage, and it also occurred to her why she had seemed familiar: because she looked a lot like the princess' mother.
The woman's eyes seemed to light up when they came upon her Obsidian Oar, and she appeared to be both happy and relieved when she directed her attention to its owner and cordially said, "Sailor Charon; words cannot convey how delighted I am to see you."
Seeing the confused look on her fellow sailor senshi's face, Pluto spoke up and casually supplied, "This is Queen Serenity: founder of the Moon Kingdom, creator of the Door of Time, our tools and castles, and the one who had charged me with guarding the aforementioned Door of Time."
Charon looked duly surprised and impressed by that, before her expression suddenly turned quizzical. "Wait, castles? Do I have a castle?"
"Did I forget to mention that?" Came Pluto's not-so-innocent reply.
Appearing to understand what their words meant, Serenity returned her attention to Pluto and asked, "Oh, is this a recent development?"
"It is," Pluto replied, with a nod of her head. "And before you get ahead of yourself: no, she's not acting as my partner. Circumstances simply required her to be a sailor senshi, and for us to work together."
She proceeded to enlighten her, regarding the situation with Charon, with said sailor senshi pitching in every now and again. Together, they covered Chibi-Usa's memories, what awaited Charon at home, and what they planned to do about it.
When they were finished, Serenity — who had simply listened to them in the meantime — nodded her head in understanding and said, "I see," before she turned a sympathetic eye toward Charon and asked, "How are you holding up? The fourth dimension hasn't been too rough on you, has it?"
"Not really..." Charon replied awkwardly, somewhat embarrassed by the kind of attention that she was receiving. Wanting to change the subject, she added, "But, um, is it okay for us to do this? I kinda thought, well..."
Serenity smiled gently and picked up where the redhead had left off. "That you're supposed to prevent people from traveling through time, instead of traveling through time yourselves?" After receiving the expected nod, she said, "While I prefer the good-hearted over the bad, even more do I prefer the latter over those who have no heart at all. I chose Pluto to guard the Door of Time because she had a heart that I could trust, not because I wanted her to shut it out."
Pluto chose that time to cough and rise to her feet. "Well, I think I'll get the ship ready for departure." She looked at Serenity pointedly and asked, "How useful will that security footage be for our case?"
"It leaves practically nothing to doubt about that man's wrongdoing," Serenity stated matter-of-factly. "It wasn't long after they had hacked into my memory, where they had discovered everything pertaining to the Door of Time, that the crew had suspected their future demise and acted accordingly. Not only did they add the Door of Time to the security system, so their murder could be recorded when the scepter proved to be functional, but they had also managed to transfer some of the security logs from their own spaceship."
"That will certainly make things easier for us," Pluto agreed, thinking that it had been a good thing when their uninvited guests had blocked all of the out-going conveyances that came from the palace, in order to prevent any alerts from being sent out to a potential response force. If they hadn't done that, knowledge of the Door of Time may have already been making its way across space, as a part of the warning message meant for their king. Instead, all they could do was leave something behind and hope that the right people would find it.
"Have you already edited out all of the sensitive content?" Pluto queried further.
Serenity nodded her head. "Some of our evidence had to be discarded, as a result, but nothing of great significance."
"Good," Pluto replied, as she turned to leave. "I'll be on my way, then."
"Hold on," Charon finally spoke up, who was unsure of what she was supposed to do. "Am I going with you, or not?"
Pluto paused and turned to regard her with a raised eyebrow before she patiently asked, "Do you think you can handle living in a spaceship for several months?"
Charon wanted to say, "of course," but under the more mature woman's gaze such hot air could only find its outlet in a sigh. "Probably not."
"Don't worry," Pluto tried to reassure her, "you'll be in good hands while I'm gone."
It looked — to Charon — as if she might say something more, but it seemed that she had changed her mind. Instead, she gave a more proper goodbye than the last one before she took her leave.
"Did I embarrass her?" Serenity wondered to herself, since the person in question had expressed a desire to leave after what she had said in answer to Charon's question, regarding time travel. It saddened her that she couldn't tell, because they had been apart for so long.
An awkward silence fell upon the room, as both Charon and Serenity wondered how to proceed with the other (though for different reasons). Since the former of the two was less inclined to accept inaction under such circumstances, she was the first to break the silence, even if it was just for the sake of breaking it.
"So," she began tentatively, "are you a ghost, or what?"
It wasn't until it was already out of her mouth that she realized how that sounded, which made her wince internally, but the object of her question seemed to take it in stride when she made her reply.
"A living memory would probably sum up what I am best," Serenity said, with an expression on her face that Charon couldn't read. "Technically-speaking, however, I am simply data in a computer being projected as a three-dimensional image, given a voice that isn't issued from an independent source."
"Oh," Charon voiced, as if she understood, when — in reality — she didn't. Well, she did, but she had to wonder if she were reading into her words too much: she made it sound like she was both a ghost and a machine, rather than just some advanced form of the latter.
If not for the subject matter, things might have gone silent between them again. However, with memories and ghosts on her mind, she was reminded of an issue that had yet to be addressed (as far as she could tell).
"Say," she began, trying to sound as unperturbed about the subject as she could, "what are we going to do about those guys who had been killed?"
Serenity gestured toward the large screen, which came to life and displayed the area in front of the Door of Time. It revealed a distinct lack of corpses, or of anything that might have suggested what had been present there only a short time ago. "That has already been seen to. They were placed into special capsules that will keep them preserved during the trip back home, and then transferred to the ship."
"...I see," Charon replied, a bit overwhelmed by how convenient technology could be. While it could certainly be useful and interesting, she couldn't help thinking about how easily it might mess with someone's mind, and — thanks to Pluto — in what ways it could. She'd already had more than enough experience with that sort of thing in general, involving shampoo and shiatsu, shiatsu by itself, pills, various foods, a fishing rod, jewelry, a virus, oni, flowers, "glasses" and eggs (among other things), so she had an understandable aversion to exposing herself to more things of that nature. That wasn't to say that it would happen, but she was more "comfortable" with what she knew best, and she knew magic and martial arts better than she did advanced technology.
Serenity was unaware of such thoughts when she saw the expression on her face, so it was with some amusement that she said, "You'll get used to it."
Charon turned her head away and mumbled, "I don't know if I want to."
During the silence that followed that statement, Serenity studied Charon carefully, wondering what kind of action to take, or if any particular action should be taken at all. Eventually, however, she was able to make a decision. It hadn't been an easy one to make, due to a conflict of interests, but she felt the need to be selfish one more time in her life (or what remained of it, anyway).
"Can you promise me one thing?" She requested softly, which sounded louder than it was due to the stretch of silence that had preceded it.
Charon looked at her a bit warily, at first, until she caught on to the mood and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. "What?"
Serenity gazed into her eyes, with barely-checked emotion behind her own, as she said, "When you have finished changing your future, come and see me... alone. There is a certain matter that I wish to talk to you about."
"Why can't we talk about it now?" Charon asked, who was confused by such a request.
Serenity smiled wanly in response. "You're more likely to understand the why of it after being given enough time. Do you understand?"
Nonplussed, Charon shrugged her shoulders and said, "I guess?"
After noticing the expectant look on Serenity's face, she awkwardly added, "If you just want to tell me something... I suppose I could listen."
"Thank you," Serenity replied, with a smile of relief. "It means a lot to me."
Charon averted her gaze and scratched at the side of her face. "So, um, what now?"
Serenity considered her question for a moment before an idea occurred to her. "Would you like to see your castle?"
With a sidelong glance, Charon asked, "You're not trying to get me sold on the idea of being a sailor senshi, are you? Just so you know: I'm totally not into the whole princess thing. Like, seriously."
"Not at all," Serenity replied, with notable amusement. "You can use it even if that's the only reason for why you become a sailor senshi."
Charon regarded her with a dubious expression on her face. "Are you serious? You'd give me a castle, just like that?"
Serenity smiled warmly and nodded her head. "It wasn't what I had originally intended for it, to be honest. However, under the circumstances, I think I can make an exception."
Charon didn't really understand the reason for the charity, so she just went along with it and asked, "So, where is it?"
"In orbit around Charon," Serenity replied matter-of-factly.
"And just how am I supposed to get there?" Charon inquired, with a slight frown. "Don't tell me you have a spaceship or some kind of teleportation thing conveniently lying around."
Serenity chuckled lightly at that and said, "Okay, I won't. Rather, I was going to suggest we wait for Sailor Cepheus to leave the solar system. By then the seal on your powers will be lifted, because she has to be within a certain range for it to be enforced, and you'll be able to teleport there."
Relieved to hear that her powers would return, even though she had no intention of making a living with them, she asked, "Okay, so what do we do until then?"
Serenity looked up thoughtfully and wondered aloud, "Yes, what could we do until then?" An idea seemed to come to her a few seconds later, and she began to smile conspiratorially. "I know: I could tell you what Sailor Pluto was like when she was a child. I can even show you my memories on the main screen."
Despite herself, Charon found her interest piqued. "Go on..."