Setting: This story takes place approximately between the events at the end of the "Sailor Moon R" series and those at the beginning of the "Sailor Moon S" series.
"I HATE this," muttered Raye Hino; the early morning chores at the Cherry Hill Shrine were bad enough, but cleaning up the kiosk after Chad had been selling charms and amulets was even worse. Chad had gone off to see if he could get a musical gig today, so mercifully she wouldn't have to deal with his constant attentions (even though he was kinda cute).
She sighed, sweeping away the last of the dust around the kiosk. Raye swept her palms together and adjusted her priestess robes. She heard a sudden, rapid fluttering sound, and looked up to the eaves of the kiosk as she heard a couple of affectionate, yet insistent, caws. "Time to feed you, my darlings," she said, and went to fetch some seed for Phobos and Deimos, her two pet crows.
As she walked toward the residence, a terrible commotion erupted behind her- looking back, she saw Phobos and Deimos squawking and flapping noisily and anxiously... they seemed terrified. She whistled curtly, and the two crows immediately flew towards her and landed together upon her outstretched arm.
"Hey, you guys, what's eating you?" she asked. The birds made no sound, but actually seemed to be cowering, with their heads beneath their wings- if a bird could tremble, the crows would have been doing so. They were definitely agitated. "Come on- I'll get you some seed and water," Raye said, smiling and trying to comfort her two winged companions.
She was halfway across the compound when the first wave of nausea hit her; Raye staggered back, as Phobos and Deimos shrieked and exploded into flight. Her mouth fell open in a soundless scream, and her normally sparkling eyes went opaque and featureless as the full force of the unwanted vision violated her consciousness...
Raye was standing at the top of the hill in the entrance of the shrine overlooking the city; Tokyo seemed peaceful, but she knew that something was wrong; nothing felt right and a sense of impending disaster filled every note of her soul. Tokyo was still Tokyo- or was it? As Raye watched, one building after another appeared to vibrate and blur in quick succession; there was no earthquake, no violent weather, no cataclysm. After a few moments, she noticed that whole city blocks seemed to one after another abruptly crumble into dust Suddenly a blinding light burst above the shrine, growing and expanding towards the shrine and the city; there was no blast, no heat, but it spread with alarming speed towards her. In a panic, she tried to run, but just then the ground beneath her feet blurred and vibrated, and she stood on nothing, with nowhere to go to... As the light rushed over her senses and consumed her, all she could hear or sense was a single word, pounding over and over in what was left of her mind..."Oblivion... Oblivion..."
With a scream, Raye snapped out of the trance; she was bathed in sweat and lying on her back on the ground. Raye clutched her forehead and groaned- everything ached- her head, her stomach, even her robes, she thought. As she sat up and her sight cleared, she found herself still in the east courtyard where she had fallen; Phobos and Deimos had landed nearby, and stood guard over their fallen mistress- they no longer seemed to be agitated or disturbed, though their eyes darted rapidly towards any implied or imagined movement. Raye's grandfather ran out of the residence towards her, a look of worry wrinkling his normally round and jovial face. "Raye! Are you all right? What happened? I heard you scream! Are you hurt... "
With a forced grin and what she hoped looked like a devil-may-care manner, Raye waved her grandfather away, saying "No big deal. I just fainted for a second; cleaning up after Chad is enough to wear anyone out." Grandfather stopped, with a puzzled look but a guarded manner. Raye said, more firmly and with a bit more venom, "Go on! I'll be fine." But will I be? she thought to herself, as she shakily arose and headed to the residence. Will any of us ever be?
* * * * *
"Wow! These are probably the BEST muffins I've ever made, if I do say so myself," said Lita proudly to no one in particular. She straightened her apron, put on her oven mitts, and promptly pulled a dozen hot chocolate-chip spice muffins out of the oven. Lita had been baking all morning, and had decided to make an extra special batch of goodies for Amy, Mina, Serena, and Raye to share at the planned meeting at the shrine that afternoon. "Hmmmm. With Serena there, I better make another dozen- that pig'll eat half of these by herself!" she commented with a grin. "Maybe I better make a couple extra for Artemis and Luna, too."
The muffins DID look good. "Maybe they won't miss one or two," she said, licking her lips. Lita popped a muffin out of the pan, peeled the muffin cup, then patted the muffin to make sure it wasn't too hot. She closed her eyes, and slowly brought the muffin to her lips... A momentary wave of nausea hit her, and she became dizzy for a brief second. "Man!" she said. "My blood sugar must be low. I'd better eat this right away." With her eyes still closed, she took a big bite, preparing to savor the sweet taste and the chocolate chips...
"PTOOOIE!!" she said, choking and spitting out the bite; "What the heck..." She looked instinctively at the muffin, but it no longer was a muffin... it was a ball of hand-pressed rice, with a wrapper of seaweed, dotted with black sesame seeds, and a pickled plum at the center- an "onigiri". "Gag!" she exclaimed... another wave of nausea hit her, and she staggered a second. When she opened her eyes, she looked to throw the rice ball away... and then realized she was holding a chocolate chip muffin with a bite taken out of it. Lita sat down. "I've been known to surprise myself sometimes, but that was too weird..."
* * * * *
"C'mon, Artemis," said Mina to her white cat, as she walked down the street. "Don't you think shopping's fun?" "Huh." said Artemis. "Not for me. I wish you wouldn't insist on bringing me along when you do this. I'd rather be home reading comic books than hanging around your neck like a fur stole or stuffed into that stupid wicker basket." "Hey, you really should read some comics," said Mina. "You might learn something." She giggled, and Artemis huffed. She was carrying two big shopping bags and was heading for home- she had to drop these things off before heading over to the meeting at the shrine.
Artemis dropped from her shoulder and leapt to the ground. "I'm going on ahead. I'll go get Luna and we'll meet you at the Shrine later." Mina winked and waggled an upturned index finger at him. "Hot date? Watch yourself- don't get scratched where it'll show!" Artemis frowned at her. "Gimme a break," he said, then loped off around the corner. Mina grinned.
As Mina passed by the Crown Game Center, she paused to look at the poster for the "Sailor V Videogame". She studied the picture of Sailor V... "I wonder why they made her look kind of like me," she thought. "Odd thing to do for an animated cartoon character. Still," she thought proudly, "Sailor Venus IS great..." A wave of nausea hit her briefly, and she staggered momentarily. As she did, a memory thrust itself upon her consciousness...
She was on a rooftop, looking down. A thug was racing away from the police in panic; the desperation on his face matched the determination of the officers following him. Pedestrians scrambled to get out of the way of the criminal. The thug suddenly grabbed a young child around the neck and hoisted the crying girl in front of him as a shield, with a knife to her throat, stopping the police in their tracks. The child screamed and her parents screamed back, frozen in panic and fear.
As she watched, the thug suddenly appeared to melt and blur, and transformed into a green, horrific monster... he was from the Dark Agency! She had to distract it- firing off a Crescent Beam, she deliberately aimed in front of the creature. As it looked up, startled, she leapt from the rooftop, crying "Sailor V Kick!!"- her outstretched foot struck the surprised monster in the neck, causing it to drop the child. The monster shrieked, was momentarily enveloped in a blinding flash, then crumbled into ashes and dust. The bystanders in the street cheered, and a policewoman rushed to her side... "Thank you, Sailor V," said the child. "Sailor V?" she said.... and caught a glimpse of herself in the reflection of a nearby shop window; instead of the familiar orange, blue, and white uniform of Sailor Venus, she saw something similar, yet different... blue skirt, blue strap shoes, red panels on the white torso, a red front bow, orange elbow cuffs on the white gloves, her trademark red hair bow, flared "wings" over her shoulders- and, most surprisingly of all, she was wearing a red mask...
Another wave of nausea, which quickly passed; and she blinked quickly. "I am...I was Sailor V! But Sailor V is just a fictional character... isn't she? Wasn't she?...." She quickly blushed as she realized she was speaking aloud. A couple of boys exiting from the Game Center stared at her for a second, then walked off. "Dippy blonde," said one. "You said it," said the other.
Mina fumed for a second... she cleared her throat; the "ahem" sound caused the boys to pause, looking back over their shoulders at her... The calm, pretty face they saw said "Excuse me..." then suddenly turned into a visage of fury as she roared, "WERE YOU BY CHANCE REFERRING TO ME???" She never got an answer, as the boys were at least two blocks away before they looked back and stopped running.
* * * * *
Amy Anderson almost ran towards the Cram School. She had some free time, and presently nothing made her happier than using this time to work on her new computer program for extra credit. She had every intention of passing the high-school placement boards at the top of the list- to do less would be an insult to her mother and to her own standards. Besides, the best medical schools required exceptional grades and she wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps, helping others. "Of course, I do that as Sailor Mercury too!" she giggled to herself. As she entered the door, she smiled; row upon row of computers lay before her, and she couldn't wait to computer model that new theory of fluid dynamics she'd been developing.
As she sat down, a wave of nausea and discomfort swept over her momentarily; she dipped her head and held it in her hands.
Glancing up at the screen, she realized that something wasn't quite right; the text on the screen seemed odd to her. She also felt dizzy and weak still;
The Supervisor rushed over to her.
"Are you all right, Mizuno-san?"
Amy stared for a moment- who?? She realized the Supervisor was speaking to her; maybe my hearing's been affected, she thought.
"Yes, I am. It must have been something I ate; Thank you for checking. I'll be OK."
"Very well, Mizuno-san. If you need to leave, please tell me."
WHAT DID I SAY? she wondered. Looking over to her notebooks, she saw her name- but instead of "Amy Anderson," she saw the words "Mizuno Ami" in kanji...
Another wave of nausea- she looked up from the table, suddenly all right. She called me 'Mizuno-san'- Miss Mizuno.' And why did my notebook say that? The supervisor came over to her desk. "Miss Anderson, are you sure you're all right?" Amy jumped, then glanced over at the notebook; "Amy Anderson" was clearly written there. She could do little more than stare at the Supervisor for about five seconds as she thought, "What just happened to me?"
"Excuse me, ma'am," Amy said. "Perhaps this isn't a good day for me to work. I think I need to go home and lie down." The teacher excused her, and Amy headed for the Cherry Hill Shrine. Though the meeting wasn't for about two hours, she felt unsettled. "Raye must know something about this. Maybe she can help."
* * * * *
Darien strolled down the busy sidewalk, carrying his workout gear in a gym bag and cheerfully whistling a tune. Why drive to the gym when you can walk on such a beautiful day as this? he thought. Besides, he was happier than he had been in years; his memories were back, he knew of his ancient past with Serena, they'd resolved their latest difficulty, and he actually was looking forward to developing his newfound relationship with her- though sometimes being with her was like having a tooth drilled, with her incessant chattering. She was a lot younger than he was, but she somehow brought out the kid in him, too. Looking up for a moment through the crowd, he saw a familiar-looking blonde up ahead buying something at an ice-cream stand, and he smiled to himself. Although her back was to him, those two knots of "meatball" hair on her head with the long trailing tails were unmistakable. Walking up to her quietly, he placed his hand gently on her shoulder and said, softly, "Hello, meatball-head." She turned surprisingly gracefully towards him, facing him. Darien jumped back and suddenly yelled in alarm...
It was Serena all right, holding a waffle-cone with three scoops of ice-cream in her right hand, a large chocolate milkshake in her left hand, and a chocolate ice-cream bar stuffed in her mouth with chocolate smeared all over her face. Her eyes lit up with happiness, and the corners of her mouth lifted. "Dr-rn!" she sort-of said... Her eyes suddenly widened to their maximum width and she emitted an "YEEEEP!!" noise, jumping backwards. "Ho'd dif a shek-n!" she exclaimed, shoving the ice-cream cone into his hand and pulling the ice-cream bar out of her mouth... "Err.. Uhh.. Be right back..."- her face was beet red as she retreated a bit, stuck the ice-cream bar back in her mouth, grabbed a handful of napkins, and quickly raced around the corner of the building to the water fountain he knew was there. Darien shook his head, amused, waited a couple of seconds, then walked slowly towards the splashing sound and the many drops of water he saw flying from behind the wall. He stopped in time to dodge the balled-up napkins, picked-clean wooden stick and the empty paper cup he saw tossed from behind the building into the trash can on the corner.
As he turned the corner, he collided with Hurricane Serena, who was squealing, "Darien! Sweetie! What a surprise to see you!"- the ice-cream cone was jostled out of Darien's hand, hurtled upwards, then came down on his head. "SERENA!!!" he bellowed. Serena paused, bit her lip, and said "OOOOooops"... then timidly offered him her hanky, blushing, with a nervous "ha, ha, ha, ha."
"Aww, Serena... why can't you just watch what you're doing! You're just so CLUMSY!" Darien said, wiping the last of the ice cream from his hair and coat with a handful of damp napkins.
"I can't help it! You shouldn't have surprised me in the middle of a snack like that," said Serena, wagging her finger at him. "Besides, I would have shared it with you. I mean, REA-lly... do you think I was going to eat that all myself??" she asked with a carefree giggle.
Darien paused, thinking Yes, you were, and probably planned on going back for seconds... but the pause lasted a bit too long. Uh, oh... he thought... as Serena's grin faded, her eyes filled and her lip began to tremble... "Uhh.. Serena... I mean..." he stammered... Too late! Serena burst into big tears, bawling her eyes out! "Oh Darien!! WAAAAH! How could you think such a thing!!! Now you think I'm a pig and I'll get as big as a blimp and you won't care about me...blubber..." "Oh, come on, Serena- I'm sorry- I know you'd NEVER overeat..." he lied, sensing the stares of onlookers and trying to get her to stop before she attracted more attention....
Her wailing abruptly ceased as they both staggered; their surroundings seemed blurry. A momentary wave of discomfort hit Darien and Serena both for a second; Darien felt queasy, and Serena looked positively pale as her eyes crossed- her cheeks bulged, and, Darien thought, Serena looks like she's going to.. to... "OH, NO!..."
"Oh, Mamo-chan... I'm so sorry. All over your clean jacket and trousers... snif... snif." "It's okay, Usako. The suit will wash. We all get sick sometimes, odango-atama." He put his hand on her shoulder reassuringly, keeping his distance. Wait a second...
They suddenly stopped and went silent, staring at each other; Mamo-chan? Usako? Dumpling head? What were they saying? They glanced back at the ice-cream stand, and saw the kana phrase "Aisu-kurimu" on the sign...
Another wave of nausea and dizziness came over them, but it was less intense this time. "Darien? What... did you see... what happened?" Darien held his head for a moment, and glanced up. "Ice Cream. The sign now says Ice Cream," he murmured. Darien stood up, warily. "Serena, let me go get cleaned up- I can put on my sweat suit- then I'll walk you home. I think that something very strange is going on around here, and it smells like the Negaverse..."
* * * * *
The campus of Crossroads Junior High School was calm and peaceful; there was no school today, and the only activity was that of the occasional passing car or pedestrian. The air appeared to swim liquidly for a second, much like that of a heat mirage, and an ominous figure materialized in front of the school.
Passers-by would have seen only a strikingly well-dressed but severe-looking human male in a smooth, well-tailored, avant-garde black business suit. His black necktie was perfectly knotted over his impeccable white shirt. He wore opaque, black sunglasses and carried a matte-finished black metal briefcase.
The man looked at the front of Crossroads Junior High, abruptly emitted a "Hmph" sound, then flipped his briefcase up so that he cradled it flat in the crook of his left arm. He passed his hand over the side of the briefcase facing him, and the surface of the case suddenly became a complex keyboard with a sizeable viewing plate above it. He rapidly tapped the keys; as he did so, the entire school building seemed to distort and blur; a moment later, the blurring stopped. The man perused the facade of the school, looked at the viewscreen on his keyboard device, then looked up again and smiled ever so slightly. He looked around, took a bearing on the Tokyo Tower, then slung his now normal-looking briefcase by his side and walked off towards the east.
The school didn't really look that much different, except for the sign over the entrance of the school that now read "Juuban Public Junior High School," in perfect Kanji.
* * * * *
There was quite a bit of traffic and people were in a hurry, so few paid notice to the severe-looking red-haired woman dressed in a stark but stylish black business suit, skirt and sunglasses, who materialized on the sidewalk near the Tokyo Tower. A few passers-by stopped and stared at her; "That's one hot-looking babe," a teenaged boy remarked. The woman stared back at him in an irritated fashion, then shifted her attention.
She brought her briefcase up and cradled it in her left arm. She appeared to tap a rapid sequence on the large keypad which suddenly appeared on the surface of the case which was facing her. She shook her head as if unhappy with something.
The street in front of her seemed to blur suddenly, and people screamed in terror as all the vehicles seemed to flip into mirror images of each other; their drivers were unceremoniously shoved to the LEFT side of the car as the vehicles all moved to the RIGHT side of the road. The triangular red stop signs on the side streets seemed to bulge and deform suddenly into hexagonal signs with STOP written in plain English on them. A few minor collisions occurred, and traffic stopped. The air was filled with shouts of anger and puzzlement.
A wail of fear rose from those still present on the street. As the screaming crowd stampeded in panic, the woman calmly blanked her pad. It appeared as a briefcase again as she shifted it to her right hand, and carried it unemotionally along her right side as she started walking to the west.
* * * * *
Raye meditated while kneeling on tatami mats in a private corner of the shrine; Grandfather had brought her hot green tea before he left for town, and it helped her recover her spirits. What she really wanted was a steaming hot bath, to draw the aches from her body; but there wouldn't be time before the meeting this afternoon. "I need to do a fire reading; that vision really shook me up," she said to herself. "There's great evil present... that was a vision of doom. Perhaps the fire will hold more information." Raye knelt before the burning brazier with her eyes closed, and rested silently, heightening her chi. She then clasped her hands together and manipulated her fingers in ever-increasing patterns as she said "Oh, great fire... show me the nature of the enemy..."
She snapped her eyes open and stared into the fire, as a new vision appeared. She was startled, and gasped; she saw herself as if she were in a mirror on the other side of the fire! The facial expression on the other Raye was also one of shock, but it was somehow different... as the vision continued, she saw dark figures materializing over the shrine, and then bright light erupted above them and pushed downward towards her... oblivion... oblivion...
"NOOOOOO!!!!!" screamed Raye, eyes wide, sweat pouring off her brow. She was in control of this vision, so the effects were manageable this time... but her heart still was pounding. I think I need that bath after all, she thought...
* * * * *
Artemis finally arrived at Serena's house, and climbed up a tree to jump over to the roof. He stopped, panting, "OK, Luna, I'm here..." Luna nonchalantly padded around the gables and planted herself beside him. "About time," she frowned, nonplused. "Let's go. We need to discuss some things on the agenda before we head for the shrine."
"Things have been pretty quiet around here, so there can't be much to talk about," Artemis grumbled as they padded down the street. "On the contrary," Luna said. "I've been picking up some strange energy fluctuations and have heard rumors of strange phenomena- people acting unusually, building signs changing. I doubt it's a mass hallucination. We must report this to the Sailor Scouts so they can be on guard."
Suddenly, both cats felt nervous, agitated- Artemis and Luna both extended their claws and gritted their teeth. Artemis stared into the distance for a second, then nervously nudged Luna. "Were these phenomena something like that?" he said, and pointed with a quivering paw.
The two cats stared in shock at an office building down the street in front of them. The building seemed to "wink," then blurred as if vibrating or surrounded by heat waves. "Look!" said Artemis. Indeed, a large neon sign on the building seemed to be changing before their eyes from "Jennings Incorporated" to "Shinohara Industries"- and back again!
Luna said, "Let's head for Raye's. We need to get to the shrine anyway, and we'll use her computer and communicator. We need to get the Scouts together immediately." The cats ran to Cherry Hill, up the staircase, through the torii arch into the courtyard around the shrine. Artemis suddenly stopped, bared his teeth and extended his claws again. "Owwww! There's something here that's driving me crazy- some horrible sensation... do you feel it?" Luna was more composed, but she too looked very uncomfortable. "I feel it too. Let's get inside..."
Raye had changed into street clothing following the all-too-brief bath. It had been a good idea; she felt soothed and re-energized. Hearing soft footfalls on the stoop, she smiled; she'd recognize that sound anywhere. Sliding the shoji back, the cats crept in. Raye smiled at her feline friends. "Hi, guys."
Luna said, "Raye, I'm glad to see you; there's something very unusual going on." She and Artemis hopped up on pillows while Raye arranged the table and cushions. "Have you sensed anything?"
"I've already experienced it, Luna," she remarked. "I've had strange visions and a sense of disharmony around the shrine and town. Something terrible's coming."
Artemis said, "That's why we came over early. We need you to contact the others and get them here now!"
Raye flipped open her wrist communicator and beeped the others. "Serena... come in..."
* * * * *
Serena and Darien were walking down the street; they were about a block or so away from Serena's house. No further disruptions had occurred, but Darien still was extremely wary, almost detached. Serena didn't care, though. Entwined with Darien's left arm, she felt safe and protected from anything.
"Serena! Come in, Serena...."
The electronically filtered voice came from her left wrist. Serena reluctantly let go of Darien's arm long enough to flip the lid of the communicator. "Hi, Raye- what's up?" "Luna and Artemis are moving the meeting up. We need you here at the shrine now!!" "Awww, come on..." Serena whined. "Can't it wait until a bit later?" Serena glanced up at Darien, who raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. "Serena! This is important!!" admonished Luna, who had stuck her face into range of the pickup and was giving Serena an all-too-familiar stern look which meant "Do It Now." "Oh, OK. I'm heading that way now." She sighed, and closed the communicator.
Darien hugged her. "It's OK, Serena. I've got to head back to my apartment anyway. Be careful; if you get into trouble, you know I'll be there."
"OK, Darien. Thanks." Serena bussed his cheek and ran in the general direction of Cherry Hill, glancing back, stopping, and waving momentarily before running again. Darien watched her go; he felt happy yet worried at the same time. Things were definitely out of balance somehow- he found he wanted, for some reason, to call her "Usako" again...
* * * * *
Amy had Cherry Hill Shrine in sight, when all of a sudden her communicator beeped. "Amy, come in!"
Amy glanced around for a moment then flipped open her communicator. "Raye, I'm here. What's wrong?"
"Luna and Artemis are moving the meeting time up. Can you be here soon?"
"I'm almost there now. Something really unusual has been happening- I was heading over to find out if you knew anything about it," Amy said.
"Oh, we know..." said Raye. "Hurry."
* * * * *
"Lita! Come in!"
Lita tossed the last of the muffins into the basket, closed the lid on the box of tempura vegetables, and opened her communicator.
"Can you come to the shrine now? Luna and Artemis need us to meet urgently."
Lita said, "On my way. Let me get a couple of things taken care of and I'm there."
She stacked the pile of soiled dishes and utensils in the sink; she hated leaving them undone, but Sailor Business was first priority.
Grabbing the basket of muffins and the veggies, Lita raced out the door.
* * * * *
"Mina! Mina! Come in!"
Mina tossed the new outfit she had bought and was trying on aside, and popped open her communicator.
"Hi, Raye- what's going on?"
"Mina, Luna and Artemis have moved up the meeting. Something weird's been happening and we need you here ASAP."
Mina said, "You can say that again. I'll be there soon."
"After she decides which outfit to wear...," she thought she heard Artemis say off screen, as she closed the communicator lid.
She finished dressing, and headed out the door of her house, running to the shrine.
* * * * *
The two cats sat on cushions, and Lita, Amy, Raye, and Mina all were seated around the table. Lita had placed the basket of muffins and box of tempura vegetables in the center, and Raye had prepared tea for all. Lita looked at her watch. Raye frowned, her eyes closed in irritation. Everyone was waiting on one last participant...
The shoji door popped open, and Serena came in. "Hey, sorry I'm late..." She was carrying a paper bag, and almost as an afterthought, hid it behind her.
"What else is new?" grumbled Raye. "You'd be late for your own funeral."
"OK, Serena, what did you stop and buy?" said Mina.
"Who, me?" said Serena, her cheeks pinking.
Luna sneaked around behind the grinning Serena and sliced open the bag with a claw. A large manga fell out, with a "plop".
"HEYYYyyyy! That's mine!" yelled Serena at Luna.
Luna stared dumbfounded. "'Ribbon'?" she exclaimed in shock. "What do you think you're doing, reading 'Ribbon'!! That's an outrage..."
"Calm down, Luna," said Artemis.
"That's funny," said Serena, picking up the manga, which was as thick as a small phone book. "I could swear this was just a thin comic book when I left the store..."
"Oh, wow! Muffins!" cried Serena suddenly. She dug into the basket with both hands, shoving one muffin after another into her mouth, exclaiming "Delishuf, Lita " and spitting crumbs every so often. "OOOoooo! Tempura Veggies! My favorite! " Everyone else, slightly embarrassed, stared at her. "By the way, Raye," she said, the next time she had an empty mouth, "why'd you change the sign outside of the shrine?"
Raye stared in disbelief. "What are you talking about, Serena?"
Serena picked up some more tempura vegetables, saying "Well, as I was coming towards the steps I saw the sign said 'Hikawa Jinja' instead of 'Cherry Hill Shrine'... What? What's wrong? Why are you all suddenly so quiet? Why are you staring?"
Everyone then told their stories; how everyone had experienced the nausea and illness, and had seen everyday things change in their lives- signs, memories, buildings, food, people... Raye didn't divulge what she'd seen in her vision completely, but what she did describe seemed to link everything that had been said together. "Maybe we're being targeted by the Negaverse," said Lita. Mina shook her head and added, "Just before I left to come here, I heard a report on the radio that mentioned that even the streets in some areas had changed; cars on the wrong side of the road, drivers on the wrong side of the car... it's not been just us that's been affected."
No sooner had she finished speaking when the entire room began to seem like it was vibrating... blurring. Everyone groaned, clutching their heads and their stomachs- the blurring seemed to intensify, and everyone nearly passed out.
When the room stabilized, everyone, weakened, picked themselves up slowly off the floor, dazed. Serena suddenly screamed in shock- everyone looked up, and froze in terror.
Serena was staring at what seemed to be a duplicate of herself, who acted just as terrified as she was. Come to think of it, everyone, even the cats, were staring at what seemed to be identical copies of themselves...
Lita was the first to react, jumping to her feet. "They must be Negaclones from the Negaverse!" she shouted, and went on guard, lunging at her counterpart. The Lita-twin went on guard also, but before Lita got to her, the Raye-lookalike leaped in front of Lita's intended target.
"Ki o tsukete! Youma yo!" yelled the Raye lookalike, who suddenly whipped an anti-demon sign from her blouse, cried "AKU-RYOU TAISAN!" and, easily dodging Lita's punch, slapped it on Lita's forehead. "What is this ?!" Lita cried, ripping the scroll off. "And what 's a Negaverse?" remarked the Raye counterpart.
Serena looked at her double, who looked at her with the same stupefied expression. They both clenched their fists and... started screaming!
"Please!!" yelled the Mina counterpart, joining everyone in clapping their hands over their ears. "Stop! You're killing us!" shouted the Lita-twin. Luna perked up- these strangers didn't SOUND like Lita and Mina...
"Hang on, everyone!" yelled Luna. "Wait!" Everyone stopped, except for the two Serena doubles, who were still freaking out, staring at each other wide-eyed and screaming at the top of their lungs. "WILL YOU TWO SHUT UP!" yelled the Artemis counterpart at the two shrieking blondes. Everyone went quiet, though all were in fighting poses, ready for action...
Luna stated simply to Serena, Amy, Raye, Lita, and Mina, "They can't be negaclones. If they were, wouldn't they be exact copies? I mean, if you were paying attention, you'd notice their voices are different from ours..." And the Artemis counterpart, addressing the girls he knew, said "And they can't be youmas. First, Rei, your 'Aku-ryou taisan' had no effect, and secondly, I think that the Mako-twin would have transformed into something deadlier than her human shape." "You've got a point, Artemisu," said the Amy counterpart. The Amy-double had her Sailor computer out, which was just like Amy's own, and she said, "I just did a scan of them... they're human."
She went over to Amy. "I'm Ami Mizuno. You're Ami too?" she inquired cautiously. "Close enough; I pronounce it Ay-mee, but my last name is Anderson." This fetched a strong reaction from all the cats. Luna said, "This is very strange... let me investigate something. State your names to each other..."
The black cats met face to face. "I'm Luna." " I'm Lu-na, also." The names sounded the same, but the newcomer pronounced it almost like "ru-na," with a lilting, young, feline voice that lacked Luna's matronly tones.
"Artemis." "Artemisu." Again, the newcomer had a younger-sounding, clear voice compared to Artemis's slightly fatherly quality.
"Raye Hino." "Rei Hino."
They paused. "The names sound fairly close, so far... not much difference. Keep going, all." Luna said.
"Amy Anderson." "Ami Mizuno."
"That's odd," remarked Lu-na.
"Mina." "Minako Aino."
"Er... what's your family name?" Artemisu asked Mina.
Mina paused, scratching her head. "I... I... don't know."
"Come to think of it, I can't remember my last name either." said Lita.
"That's weird," said Serena. "Neither can I! I HAVE to have one, don't I?" she pouted. "Let's keep going," said a concerned Artemis.
"Lita." "Makoto Kino."
"Serena." "Usagi Tsukino."
Artemisu frowned. "The last two cases are really widely different. I wonder what could be happening to account for this?"
"I think we know," said Amy and Ami. The two of them had been conferring in the corner, and had their Sailor minicomputers linked together. "Sit down and we'll explain."
Ami began. "I'll use computers as an example of what's been happening." She held up a disk from Raye's PC. "Here's the master copy of a database program."
Amy held up another disk; "And here's a backup copy of the same program, in case something catastrophic happens to the original."
Ami continued. "The original is almost always backed up on a regular basis, so if there is a problem with the original, the user can just restore it from what he or she had before and avoid starting over."
Amy's turn; "But what happens if the backup becomes corrupted somehow? If you try to save or restore data from the backup to the original, the original data becomes incompatible. Computer viruses cause this sort of thing all the time."
The other girls all stared blankly at Amy and Ami. The cats, however, all lit up with smiles. They were following right along with the two geniuses.
Ami said, "Here's our Reality."
Amy added, "And here's ours."
"We're functionally the same- almost the same names, lives, and landmarks."
"What's happened is that our two realities function like the computer program."
"One's the original- our Reality." said Ami.
"And the other's the backup- ours." said Amy.
"Honto! " said Artemisu. "This might explain how the Ginzuishou worked long ago in the Silver Millenium, and after our battle with Queen Beryl- it makes sense that Princess Serenity's 'Moon Healing Escalation' power restored our world to a prior state before the Dark Kingdom by using the backup reality."
Serena frowned. "Don't you mean 'Moon Healing Activation?' or 'Moon Cosmic Power?'" she asked. "I never heard of 'Moon Healing Escalation.' And what's this Dark Kingdom? We were fighting the Negaforce and the Negaverse!"
"That confirms it," said Lu-na, grimly. "This reality we're in now must have become corrupted during the 'Moon Healing Escalation' process. And what's transpired here must be a result of that corruption."
"But we have lives!" shouted Mina, almost tearfully. "We aren't just a copy of another universe! This is stupid." "So it's like when I was Sailor V before I was Sailor Venus," said Minako. "I was the same, but still different."
"You were really Sailor V!" Mina's eyes grew wide, and her lip trembled. "So I was living your memories.... Because I can't remember being Sailor V, ever." Minako looked stunned, and was speechless.
Mako looked at Lita. "Were you making muffins earlier today?" she asked. "Because I was making my world-famous onigiri, and when I sampled it, I got a mouthful of some chocolate-chip thing..." Lita's eyes grew wide, and she nodded; "So I DID make those rice things my muffins turned into... in a manner of speaking." Mako smiled. "At least we both know how to make tempura vegetables." she remarked. "And they're GREAT, too!" piped up a brightly smiling Serena.
"Say, if there are two of us," Serena said to Usagi, "Then that must mean there's two Dariens, too!! Ooo! That would be so cool!" "You mean Mamoru? Two Mamo-chans?" Usagi said, brightening. "We ought to go see if we can find them! We can 'double date'! Ah ha ha ha !!!"
"I second THAT motion! Heeheehee!" grinned Serena. Usagi abruptly said, "Hey, watch!"
Usagi picked up a stick of tempura from the veggie tray, crossed her forearms with second and fourth fingers extended on each hand, and pointed;
"Zucchini kawatte, oshiokiyo!" she said, finally bursting out laughing, "Ah, hahaha! Ah ha, Ah hahaha!"
Everyone dipped their heads in exasperation and blew a sigh; Lu-na and Artemisu looked at Usagi, then shook their heads.
Raye said, "Huh. She's just as bad in your reality as she is in ours."
Serena stalked over and with an angry expression, yelled "Oh? And what's THAT supposed to mean?"
Usagi made a face and said, "Sounds like your version of Rei-chan is just as mean and crabby as mine is."
Rei said, "Well, that Serena sure can't be any stupider than you are, Usagi."
"Meanie," retorted Serena.
"Brat," snapped Raye.
"Baka!" spat Usagi.
"Nakimushi!" suggested Rei.
"Thbbbb." Serena's tongue shot out.
"Thbbbb." Raye's tongue joined in.
"Thbbbb." Usagi also stuck out her tongue.
"Thbbbb." Rei wasn't going to be left out, either.
Ami sighed, hanging her head. "Some things are the same in both realities."
"Hora! Will you two... er... four... quit this for once!!" shouted Lu-na. The girls went silent, but continued to glare at each other. "Keep going, Ami."
Ami said, "The energy surges, which we all must have experienced judging by the nausea and queasiness we've all felt, must be walls between the realities breaking down. Every so often, part of our reality comes into your world."
"And part of our reality comes into yours," agreed Amy. "The barriers are very unstable right now. I hate to imagine what will happen if this instability continues."
"The biggest manifestation of this instability was us," remarked Ami. "I think what happened was that the balancing force, which we normally wouldn't even notice, was 'backing us up'- and because we are more different than similar, the imbalance caused us to share memories with you, experiences- even occupy the same space for a moment- as if a computer was trying to over-write our 'data'. "
"All of us- meaning me, Rei, Mako, Minako, and Usagi- were then for some reason, pulled bodily into this reality; the only reason we're existing here is because there are so many differences between you and us- our voices, our names, our histories- despite our physical similarities. It's as if we're two sets of 'programs' occupying the same location in 'memory'."
Amy added, "Because there are more similarities than differences with objects such as buildings and other areas of the city, they often swap places in the two realities. But in cases where there are bigger incompatibilities, there are more catastrophic effects."
Ami finished with, "I think I'll term this a 'Dimensional Incompatibility Crisis', for lack of a better term." Amy agreed, "That's exactly what I'd call it. A DIC."
Raye looked at Rei. As their eyes met, they both experienced a chill; they knew at that moment that they had bridged the two realities earlier; they had indeed seen each other during the fire reading, and she knew that they had both had had the vision of the blurring buildings and the light of oblivion... but why them?
Artemis became a cat of action. "Amy, Ami, link your computers with this PC." As they did so, he rapidly started typing in data with his paws, staring intently at the complex patterns and graphics forming on the screen of Raye's computer. "Looks like there are numerous energy surges localized all over Tokyo," he said. "Some of them very old- almost natural, but others are more recent..."
Amy suddenly yelped in shock. "Look!" she pointed to the screen. "These last four energy surge points! They'd been either normal, and an interreality surge was created, or they were active hot spots that went back to normal again! They're not part of the existing natural pattern of instability!"
"That means..." Ami started, and stopped in disbelief.
"Yes," said Artemisu. "Something or someone is trying to hasten the process, or repair it, or maybe both! I can't tell which!"
Ami sat down and quickly typed in data. "I think I can trace a pattern of location and relative age of these last artificially created instabilities." Amy said, "Look! There are two recent changes to the west of us, and two to the east. They get progressively younger as they move toward this central hot... spot..." her voice faded.
Luna and Lu-na raced over to the computer. "The energy sources converge on the Shrine!" yelled Luna. "The Shrine is a hot spot of instability- the biggest one on the map!"
Rei stared at Raye; the Shrine is the largest instability- no wonder Phobos and Deimos reacted, and the vision occurred... she thought.
Amy disconnected her minicomputer and began tapping the keys quickly, scanning the screen and rapidly searching the region. "I'm picking up two sources of powerful life energy, just outside the grounds here! They had been stationary, and I thought they were just instabilities- but one of them is actually moving towards us from the east, and another from the west!"
Everyone jumped up, and ran outside. Luna yelled, "Everyone- Transform!"
Amy, Raye Lita, and Mina immediately pulled out their Star Wands, and gave their transformation cries:
"Mercury Star Power!"
"Mars Star Power!"
"Jupiter Star Power!"
"Venus Star Power!"
Serena held up her brooch, opened the lid, and touched the enclosed Silver Crystal, crying;
"Moon Crystal Power!"
Lu-na yelled, "Minna! Henshin yo!"
Ami, Rei,Makoto, and Minako also pulled out their Star Wands, and gave their own transformation cries:
"Mercury Star Power- Make UP!!"
"Mars Star Power- Make UP!!"
Jupiter Star Power- Make UP!!"
"Venus Star Power- Make UP!!"
Finally, Usagi held up her own brooch, opened the lid (which made a ringing sound), and touched the enclosed Ginzuishou, crying;
"Moon Crystal Power- Make UP!!"
In an incredible spectacle, bands of energy from the Star Wands and the Crystal Brooches whipped around the girls' swirling, momentarily nude bodies as their regular street clothing dematerialized and the energy bands fused into their Sailor Uniforms, transforming them into:
The group posed; "SAILOR SCOUTS!!!" they cried.
"SAILOR SENSHI-TACHI!" they shouted, ready for action.
Artemis, Artemisu, Luna, and Lu-na said "Sailor Scouts! Sailor Senshi! Take up positions outside the shrine- the enemy is just about here!"
The two groups raced out of the residence and into the east courtyard, then ran towards the front of the shrine where they could cover the southern approach.
"If whatever the enemy is wants in," said Sailormercury, " they'll have to come up these stairs, based on my localization of these source signals."
"Uh... Guess again, Ami-chan..." said a wide-eyed Sailormoon; every one else froze in shock, staring...
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