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Knowledge of the events of episode #42 (the 'Sailor V origin episode') will help with understanding this story, since the events are very closely linked.
Original release date: June 12th, 1997
I'm standing on the very edge of a rooftop, several stories off the ground, looking down to the street. Cars zipping back and forth, lights flashing, the occasional beeping of a horn. Fairly peaceful, as such nights go. It's not quite raining, but it's drizzling just a bit and the mist is thick. Typical English weather. I never thought, in my two years here, that I might be faced with the prospect of actually missing it.
I'm so close to the edge and so high up that the wind is physically shifting me around, stronger than it would be on the ground since there's very little up here to get in its way. Only me. I shift in turn, delicate changes in my muscles that keep me totally centered. I keep my ears open--the two advantages of being so high are that I can see for quite a way in all directions, and that no one is close enough to be able to see my skirt flaring in the wrong direction. The stupid thing is so short that it only goes up as high as my ribcage; it doesn't hide enough even when it's in the right place. I ignore it, don't bother adjusting it, and focus on everything around me. This is London, a less reputable part of the great city, and I've been here for almost half an hour, scanning for all I'm worth. It can't be long now. The night isn't that quiet.
On cue, someone screams off to my left. The sound is cut short, too abruptly. But I've placed it and I'm moving, dancing, almost, as I nearly fly across the rooftops, isolate the alley some poor unfortunate has been dragged into, and head down the drainpipe. No sirens, no flashing lights. I'm providing the red-and-blue of justice on my own. Again. Same old, same old--but for the last time, in this city, anyway.
I'm fourteen years old. I've had a long day at school, my last day in this weird school system where students are actually separated according to ability and where I--naturally blond, but Japanese--stand out. This is encouraged, this standing out. Tomorrow I am going home, on a long plane ride, to a school, a country, where "the nail that sticks up is hammered down". I am going to stick out. It will not be encouraged. But what can I do? I should be in bed. But I've learned to function on as few as two hours of sleep, less if necessary.
I am Sailor V. I go where the police can't. I hide in plain sight. Just like in the comics, I transform from the "mild-mannered school-girl by day" to--what? But I don't need a phone booth, only a . . . pen. I don't tell anyone that. And two simple words: "Moon Power!" And just like that, my skirt's too short and there's a mask on my face. Pretty snappy, huh? And my body does weird things--I look older, and I heal faster if I'm hurt badly enough. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of criminals better than them knifing me one night and having me back on them less than twenty-four hours later. Of course, it's a lot harder to terrorize the supernatural baddies. The cops can't do anything about them. Only I can. That's why I'm here.
Usually I'm not too quiet about taking down the nasty people of the world, but tonight I have to be careful. I have to make sure that I don't make the news in any way. Because, as far as two very important people know, I am dead. Killed in a violent explosion, while trying to stop a criminal. I don't know who he was--I never got a crack at him. That rankles. But there's no way I could have survived . . . if I were normal. I'm not too sure what I am . . . but normal isn't it. Katrina hasn't got a body to look at, but she's sure that I'm gone. I don't think she ever really understood just how different I am. But she knows that Sailor V is an important factor in keeping as much peace as there is in this city, and V-chan is a pretty shady figure, seeming to vanish for weeks or even months before popping up again. So, however much she grieves, she's not going to lose her head enough to let anyone else know that I'm "dead". Her job's too difficult as it is for her to give up any advantage.
I have the sick suspicion that the events of my "death" are going to haunt me for a long time. I remember the darkness of the building, seeing the round object on the floor, and being lifted off my feet by a blast of searing heat less than a heartbeat after my instincts screamed "Bomb!" It hurt. It hurt a lot, actually. I'm still aching from it, but proud that it doesn't show as I hit the ground and instantly take off again, sizing up the situation mid-leap.
Two thugs in sight, and I'm not sensing anything unearthly about them. Not of the Darkness, then . . . only from the seedier parts of town. One victim, a woman maybe in her twenties, cowering against the alley wall. I wonder why she doesn't run . . . and then I realize. Two victims. There's a little kid behind her. None of them have seen me yet, and one creep doesn't get a chance to.
"Sailor V Kick!" Oops--they're not supposed to notice who I am! Nothing like an attack style that gives away your identity the second you open your mouth! Sometimes I just listen to myself, and I think 'You've got to stop reading so many American comics!' At any rate, the damage is done--to him and to me. He's out cold on the ground, and his chum's staring at me. Huh. So's his gun. And the woman and kid. I decide to try to bluster my way through this--I can attack him long range, but I prefer not to, on Artemis' recommendation. Don't want to give the Dark a clear idea of what I'm capable of.
(Did I mention that I have a white, talking cat? Who gives way too much free advice?)
I open my mouth, but he beats me to it. "Where'd you come from?" I see nervousness in his eyes and in the way he waves the gun, but he grins and keeps on going. "Some whorehouse kick you out 'cause your skirt's too short?"
I hate it when they use that approach. I always feel like yelling, 'I didn't pick this stupid fuku! It's the uniform!'
I snap back without thinking. "Except to clean out scum like you, the only way I'd ever go to those parts is over my dead body!" I like using popular sayings--it shows I'm well-read. Something about it didn't quite ring true, though . . . his grin widens.
"Your dead body? Good idea there, kid!"
Oh. That was it. Where's Artemis when I need him? On the rare occasions when I mess an expression up, he usually corrects me before I say it. You'd almost think I did it a lot or something!
And another thing-now I need another snappy comeback or he'll get the last word! But there's no time to spare . . . oh well. Wouldn't want to sound too much like an American comic book with all the witty banter. Who do I think I am, the 'Amazing Spiderman'?
I glance quickly at the woman. "Get out of here!" She stares blankly at me. Damn! I hate it when people freeze up. "Get out of here!" Comprehension flickers; she starts to move towards the street. "GO!" She starts to run. It'll be okay . . . and then the little kid trips. She turns back as I start to move towards the thug. His eyes widen as I fly at him . . . and that sick premonition that hit right before I 'died' comes again. "Get DOWN!" I shriek over my shoulder. The gun is moving, slight pressure forming against the trigger . . . I bring my arm up. "Crescent--" too slow "Slender--" oh no oh no oh no please "BEAM!"
It flashes past his shoulder. My aim is good but not perfect yet . . . I lost someone once before. When I first started out and didn't have it down. Once. Please, don't let it be happening now, on my last night in this city I've worked so hard to protect!
And there's blood, and a dull thud, and a nameless woman hitting the ground while her child stares in silence. I don't know what my face looked like, but the thug goes a little pale. And then he looks at her and completes the image that's been running through my mind since this started-some four minutes ago. He looks at what he's just done, and he looks at me, and he tries to be funny. "I guess the hand that rocked the cradle just kicked the bucket, hey?"
I stare at him from behind the mask that mostly obscures my features. I'm a superhero, I guess. Heroes only use their powers on people who can fight back, and he can't, not really. But he's been talking like a smart-mouthed 'super-villain' through this whole thing, like he's my equal. Not like most normal humans would, once they figured out who I am. There's a woman lying behind me, probably dead. He's cracking jokes. And in a rush of blind fury--over my own failure to protect this innocent, over his actions, over his sheer inhumanity--I think, he deserves it! I rank him with the true inhumans I've fought, and I lift my hands, and I stare him in the eyes and say clearly "Crescent Shower." I'm shaking only on the inside. I know that I have less control over this attack, and that it is not going to miss. Beams of light, pure gold, lance from my fingertips, rush towards him--
--and they do miss, as a white cat flies full-bodied against my arms. The unexpected weight shoves me to the side, and when I look over, my guardian Artemis is gone. Light scatters in all directions, adding scorch marks to the already-filthy walls of the alley. One beam strikes the gun from the man's hand, and it glows white-hot as it sails away. We stare at each other for an instant. He recovers before I do, tries to rush past me to freedom. That brings me back to reality and I lash out at him. "Sailor V Chop!"
He joins his companion on the ground. I turn to look at the damage he's done, and my heart breaks. The little kid--a boy, I see now in my first clear look at him, and maybe four or five years old--is looking back and forth from his mother to me. His face is too pale, he's almost definitely in shock. Dull-eyed, he stares at me when he notices my attention. I start to move, and find myself kneeling beside them, checking her throat for a pulse although I don't expect to find one. The child continues to watch me.
And then I feel it. So soft under my fingertips.
Life, where I expected only cooling flesh.
"She's alive," I hear myself whisper. "She's alive." But barely, and not for long. Blood is still pooling, and I shudder to think how this must be affecting her son's young mind. Time to think of that later, though--now I have to keep her alive. I map out the city in my head. The first lucky stroke of the night--we are only a few blocks away from a hospital. I can easily carry her there, let her live, call the police from there . . .
. . . and then I remember. I am dead. I can't just waltz in there.
But I can't let this woman die.
I can only think of one alternative. I look at the little boy, the only actual witness. His mother and one attacker can have what they thought they saw attributed to the heat of the moment. Artemis--if he's still around, and he must be--can pull one of his moon-cat tricks and maybe blur the second thug's memory. But this kid doesn't deserve that, any more than he deserves to lose his mother. And the only way I can see to cover us all is for Aino Minako--who is the Sailor V model, after all, because of their strong resemblance to each other--to take her into the emergency room. I'm not as strong in that body as I am in this one, but I am a trained athlete and there is little doubt in my mind that I can pull it off.
I look at the little kid and smile as reassuringly as I can. "Can you keep a secret?" I ask him. He stares at me. "Please, it's important. I really want to help your mom, but I need you to keep a very special secret for me."
An eternity passes while his young, shocky mind considers it. Slowly, he nods, and my smile becomes more real with relief. I close my eyes and address the shadows. "Artemis. Artemis." A cat's head brushing my hand tells me he's arrived, this strange friend and trusted confidante, and I hope he'll help me. I meet his eyes and then glance at the strange crescent moon marking his brow. Moon-cat, mentally the same as any human, with a body indistinguishable from an ordinary tom. Except for that mark, which glows in the moonlight it's meant to mirror. In one of those impossible moments of complete understanding, he realizes exactly what I intend.
"I'll handle it," he says, and walks to stand over the fallen punk's body. The moon-mark flares to brilliant life, and the boy gapes in astonishment.
"Cat . . !"
"His name is Artemis," I say. I reach up and carefully remove my red mask, pulling it away and shaking my head to free my hair completely.
"Sailor V!" In his childish lisp, he pronounces it as a Japanese speaker would--'say-rah vee!' and my smile widens in spite of myself, in spite of the horror around us.
"Right! So, what's your name?"
"Ian," comes the response. Shyly. He's unsure of himself.
"Well, Ian, you know who I am. But I'm someone else, too." I concentrate and lose my transformation. In a heartbeat, Sailor V is gone and I'm myself again. I think. Sometimes I feel as if I'm both the hero and the ordinary girl, and sometimes I don't feel I'm either. He sees the difference clearly, I can tell--how I look younger, less otherworldly. I never saw that part, until Katrina mentioned it once.
<"The change in age is there, Minako-chan. But I think the real reason no one knows you is that you don't look human. I can't describe it. It's not just the moon-mark on your forehead, either ..">
"My name is Mina," I tell Ian. "Let's help your mom, okay?" He nods, and doesn't interfere as I reach out and rip some fabric from his mother's skirt, quickly forming a rough bandage around her wound. Not perfect, but it'll have to do.
"These two are taken care of, Minako-chan." Artemis has vanished again, but I know he'll be with me all the way to the hospital. I very carefully slide my arm under Ian's mother and start to lift her. She's a small woman, maybe even shorter than me, and I'm able to gather her up without too much difficulty.
"Ian", I say over my shoulder. "Remember the secret, okay? I'm Mina, not Sailor V. If anyone asks you anything, I just look like her. She was never here." I sneak a look to make sure he's listening and moving with me. He looks like a bright kid, like he understands. I really, really hope he does. He nods, anyway. Probably the best I'm going to get.
It's pretty quick going to the hospital; we're there in only a few minutes. The neutral-colored sweatsuit I pulled on before transforming tonight is darkening with blood, more of it than I'd hoped. Maybe I need a refresher course in first aid . . . but now's not the time. As I reach the big sign that reads "Emergency" someone sees us through the glass and runs to open the door for us. With a sigh, I pass my--thankfully still-breathing--burden to an orderly, who has this poor victim out of the room and, presumably, to the right facilities, almost before I can blink. I inhale experimentally; barely winded. I must be in good shape!
"Miss?" It takes a second to realize someone's addressing me. "Miss? I need to take your name, and the name of the woman you just brought in . . . " I inhale again, slowly, for good measure. I'm not used to being anonymous; under normal circumstances I would have brought her in and left, my identity as Sailor V enough to safeguard my motives and get me out without doing more than giving a short statement to the police--usually accompanied by the baddies I've collected during the night.
"Um, I don't actually know who she is. This little guy is her son, I think. His name's Ian. I was just out running, and I heard noise in the alley out there." I wave in the direction we've just come from. "Saw a couple of guys lying on the ground, and this lady, and she was the only one who looked hurt so I grabbed her and came here as fast as I could." I see Ian staring at me. <"Yes", I try to say with my eyes, "grown-ups lie too.">
"And you are . . ?" Her pen's moving quickly.
"My name's Mina." I don't offer anything else and now I look hard at her, trying to appear innocent and yet make it clear that that's all she's getting out of me. Someone comes and whispers in her ear for a moment. She nods and turns back, now looking at Ian.
"Sharon Cooper? Is that your mommy?" He nods, shyly. "They've called your father, Ian. He's on his way." He's still silent, but looks a little bit relieved. Somehow this does not surprise me. I feel relieved too-this means I can get home before my parents notice that I'm not in my bed. I have an early plane to catch--Tokyo is waiting for me! So, according to Artemis, are some people I've never met, who don't know that they're waiting. I've seen a picture of one of them--Sailor Moon--and there're three others, I think. Artemis says I'll have a month or so to watch them and learn about them (and my new transformation!) before I join up with them, once we get home to Japan. Home . . . it's been a long time. I'll need that month to readjust to normal life there, never mind the superhero gig that'll take so much of my time. Another huge city to learn, inside and out. I'm not sure whether to feel invigorated or scared.
"Do you still need me?" I ask. "I should really get home . . ." Ian looks up at me and I feel a stab of guilt for leaving him, but then a tall man appears at the door, looking scared out of his mind, and Ian runs to him. I look at the nurse, who shakes her head, and I start to leave. Usually I'd leave a number where I could be reached--Katrina's pager, for example--so I could find out how Ian's mother is. But that's not an option.
"Mina!" Small voice. I turn to look at this little boy. It must have been all of twenty minutes ago that I met him, poor thing. I smile and wave quickly but keep heading for the door to fend off his father's thought of coming to talk to me. In a minute he'll find out that I'm the one who brought his wife in, and then he'll really want to talk. It's not like me to leave, but . . . I step back through the glass and into the night. He turns away. Ian's in his arms now, looking over his shoulder at me. So when his father isn't looking, I flash him my biggest I-am-a-superstar grin and run my fingers over my face in my trademark 'V' gesture.
And he smiles, and mimics it. Through the glass his lips move: 'say-rah vee'. And he presses a finger to them and shakes his head. Secret. Cute kid.
Two steps into the shadows I open my arms for Artemis, who flows up and settles against me and I start to run towards the flat that'll be my home for a few more hours. Maybe I can get some sleep, if I hurry . . . and if not, there's always the plane. Big silver plane, where I can go to sleep Sailor V and wake up Sailor Venus. I roll the name around in my mouth. No more being a model, a double for my second, secret self. No more solo hero. And I'll probably have to shepherd these new heroes around for a while, make sure they've learned the ropes before I trust them to watch my back. But hey--I get to be named after the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Appropriate, really! I allow myself to preen at a darkened store window, and laugh at my reflection. Venus. I am Venus. 'V' was only a code-name, after all.
And maybe . . . maybe these other warriors will be . . . friends. Real friends, my own age. I'll miss Katrina and--and--him . . . can't even think the name again, not yet . . . and they were friends, but not the same.
I run, fast as I can, to my sleeping parents and my waiting bed. I shinny up the drainpipe, of all things, and clamber in the window. Cram my ruined sweatshirt into a sealed garbage bag of all the junk we've accumulated in two years that will never fit into our little home in Tokyo, stuff that will never see the light of day again, and burrow deep into the blankets.
As I snuggle down, I offer an idle prayer to whoever's out there--the kami of my neglected Shinto faith or the God everyone speaks of here--that Ian's mom will be all right. And then I start to drift off.
And then, right before I lose consciousness--with only an hour until Mom comes in to wake me--I try to remember just where I learned about pillow fights: here, or at home. I wonder if these other soldiers will be friends . . . and if they'll let their collective hair down long enough to have a pillow fight, someday.
Author's Notes (of course):
Naah. Can't think of anything. Except . . . dedicated to everyone in my second 'family', past & present, who've put up with my bizarre obsession with this weird imported show from Japan. Everyone, this means you! Yeah, you!
back to the Short Story Page.After the First Death, 6 August 1998