[Opening Shot of a Japanese cram school. It is growing late and many students are pouring out of the school, done with their extra studies for the day. A tall senior with long black hair and a bag full of books slung over her shoulder strides out alone. Many stare at her, some in envy, others just because she is walking so fast. ]

Voices: How can she be so pretty and not have a boyfriend?...Heck, even Hitomi has a boyfriend and she's here voluntarily...I hear she hates men...Why is she always in such a hurry, anyway?...I hear Daisuke asked her out and she turned him down...No way!...Where's my sandwich?

[A cold wind blows grey clouds across the sky as the last group of girls leaves the school. They walk together to their bus stop, chatting a little. It seems that they just ride the same bus home and don't know each other well. One of them is Mizuno Ami. Another is the girl everyone was talking about.]

Ami: [thought] Rumiko-sempai must be under a lot of stress, with her juken* coming up soon.
[*Juken: the college entrance exam that basically your entire pre-college education is focused towards. Fail this and you might as well have slept the last 12 years.]

[She looks around. All the seniors present look nervous. Some stare off into space, others tap their fingers on anything they can find. A few hum bits of the same songs over and over and over again.]

Ami: [thought] I'm glad I don't have my Juken for another two years. How is Usagi ever going to pass hers? She'll be lucky if she gets her high school diploma for that matter.

[The bus arrives and all the students pile on. This is a long familiar ritual for them, repeated on a daily basis. Soon, they fill most of the available seats and the bus moves on.]

Ami: [thought] I'll just have to help Usagi as best I can and hope she learns to study harder. [pause] Maybe she'll learn some sort of test passing power...[laughs faintly, spoken aloud] Moon Test Grade Escalation!

Girl next to Ami: What was that?

Ami: [blushing faintly] Um, nothing.

Girl next to Ami: You a Sailor Moon fan?

Ami: [nervously] Um, you could say that.

Girl next to Ami: I'm Ichiwara Yuki, by the way.

Ami: Mizuno Ami. Nice to meet you.

Yuki: What exactly was that phrase you were saying?

Ami: I was just thinking of a friend of mine who's going to need magical powers to improve her grades.

Yuki: [smiles] I have a few friends who could use magical powers to help their grades too. So who's your favorite senshi?

Ami: [nervously] I, uh. I don't like to play favorites. It causes too much trouble...I mean, um...Who's your favorite?

Yuki: It is hard for some people to decide, but not me! I like Sailor Venus the best. She was the first one, you know. I think she ought to be in charge. A lot of people don't realize how much of a bumbler their leader is, but I've seen her in action. She always looks like she wants to run away. Sailor Moon ought to step aside and let Venus be in charge. She has more experience, anyway.

Ami: I don't think Mi..Sailor Venus would do that though. She doesn't seem to be the type to push someone aside.

Yuki: Well, they are all pretty brave, I guess, fighting all those monsters. And they're all so pretty, too. I bet they all have boyfriends.

Ami: [smiling] Maybe they all have to go to cram school like us and don't have time.

Yuki: How could they spend all that time fighting monsters and go to cram school? I guess their grades must be suffering.

Ami: [thought] It certainly isn't easy.

[Faint snoring erupts from the seat in front of them. Rumiko has fallen asleep.]

Ami: I think she's missed her stop. [shakes Rumiko awake] Shinohara-sempai?

Rumiko: [groggy] Eh..wahh...Just a few more minutes, mother.

Ami: I think you missed your stop.

Rumiko: [groggy] No, no, couldn't miss my stop.

Yuki: I think it's too late to say you can't miss your stop.

Rumiko: [starts to get up, then sits back down hard] Must go home.

Ami: Are you okay?

Yuki: I think she's ill.

Rumiko: I just need some sleep.

[Rumiko starts to nod off again.]

Ami: I think we'd better make sure she gets home okay. We can change buses at the next stop and help her get home.

Rumiko: [mumbles] I'll be just fine.

Ami: Not until you get some rest. You don't mind helping, do you, Yuki?

Yuki: I'll need to call home and let them know I'm going to be late so mom doesn't think Godzilla ate me or something.

[Ami blinks.]

Yuki: Mom's really paranoid and worried I might get attacked by all these monsters that keep showing up all the time.

Ami: It can be dangerous at night by yourself, but we should be safe together. [thought] Safer than you realize.

[They switch buses at the next stop, then walk Rumiko home. She gradually pulls herself together in the night air, and by the end, she is walking without help.]

Rumiko: Thank you very much. Who are you, anyway?

Ami: I'm Mizuno Ami and this is Ichiwara Yuki.

Rumiko: I'm Shinohara Rumiko. It was very kind of you to help me get home. I can't believe I'm so tired.

Ami: It was nothing.

[They are at the front door of the Shinohara house now.]

Yuki: It was nice meeting you!

Ami: Good luck on your juken.

Rumiko: Thank you very much, kohai*. Good luck in your own studies.
[*Kohai: underclassman]

[She turns and goes inside. Ami and Yuki head back to the bus stop to catch the next bus home.]

Yuki: That was very nice of you to help her.

Ami: [blushes a little] You helped too.

Yuki: It was your idea. I wouldn't have known what to do. I hadn't even realized she missed her stop.

Ami: I know when everyone gets on and off the bus. I have a really good memory.

Yuki: You might even be almost as smart as Sailor Mercury.

Ami: [smiling] Almost.

* * * * *

SYMPHONY OF THE PLANETS:

MERCURY

by John Biles

* * * * *

[We see Rei and Usagi at a bus stop, waiting for something. Usagi keeps walking around and around and around the sign, while Rei sits on the bench and looks up at the starry sky.]

Usagi: We've got to go looking for her! Her bus came and went without her! Maybe something horrible has attacked her! It's so cold. I wanna go home!

Rei: [rolls her eyes] We can't go home and go looking for her at the same time.

Usagi: And I'm so hungry! We've been waiting here so long I've missed dinner.

Rei: Life goes on Usagi. We can't all eat five meals a day like you.

Usagi: I don't eat five meals a day!

Rei: Well, alright...You don't look that fat.

Usagi: Don't call me fat! I am not fat! [pinches her side to test for fat] WAAAAHHHH!!!! I am getting fat!

Rei: [thought] I should have asked Minako to wait with Usagi. Or Luna. Or that cute guy over there. Or just about anyone except me. Of course, only Usagi would need a babysitter at her age...I hope Ami gets here soon or I'm going to have to kill Usagi. Why is she so late?

[A bus pulls up and Ami gets off.]

Usagi: [runs over and hugs Ami] I thought a horrible monster must have eaten you!

Ami: Uh, no, just had to help someone get home.

Rei: You should have called and let us know you'd be late. I've been trapped here with Usagi for over an hour.

Ami: I'm sorry. This came up unexpectedly. It won't happen again.

* * * * *

[At Ami's house.]

Mrs. Mizuno: [cooking dinner] I can't believe she's this late. That Usagi girl must be holding her up. I can't see why she spends so much time with that girl.

[The door opens and Ami runs in, slamming the door as a cold breeze blows the umbrellas and coats in the door alcove about.]

Ami: It must be getting into the negatives, what with the windchill factor in play.

Mrs. Mizuno: [worried tone] Are you okay?

Ami: A little bit chilled, but I'm fine.

Mrs. Mizuno: Miss your bus?

Ami: I had to help Shinohara-sempai get home. She was so tired she missed her stop.

Mrs. Mizuno: That was very good of you, Ami. Is she preparing for her juken?

Ami: Hai. I guess she must have stayed up too late studying last night.

Mrs. Mizuno: From what I've heard, I'm sure she doesn't need to worry so much about the juken, though. As compared to that Usagi girl.

Ami: Mother, Usagi isn't as dumb as she looks. She just isn't good at applying herself.

Mrs. Mizuno: You were smarter than her when you were five, dear.

Ami: Mother, don't say things like that.

Mrs. Mizuno: I can't see why you hang around with her. You really need to devote yourself to your studies. You're 16 now. Your juken is only two years away.

Ami: She's my friend. I like being with her. There's not exactly a million geniuses out there for me to hang out with.

Mrs. Mizuno: I just worry it will affect your grades and...

Ami: My grades are fine, mother. I'm doing my best. I want you to be proud of me. [Her stomach grumbles.] Is dinner ready? I'm really hungry.

Mrs. Mizuno: We'll be ready to eat in just a few minutes.

* * * * *

[We see Rei and Usagi at a bus stop, waiting for something. Usagi keeps walking around and around and around the sign, while Rei sits on the bench and looks up at the starry sky.]

Usagi: [frantic] She's late again!

Rei: Yes. [thinking] Next time, I really am going to insist that someone else wait with Usagi.

Usagi: How can you be so calm?

Rei: She's not any later than last night. [thinking] And I'm not any closer to going insane. At least, not yet.

Usagi: [sits down, opens her purse, and pulls out a candy bar, which she starts scarfing down] Waiting makes me so hungry.

Rei: Being alive makes you hungry.

Usagi: Rei!

Rei: Well it does. It just makes you a lot hungrier than most of us.

Usagi: Stop saying mean things to me!

Rei: Stop being so spastic and eating something every three minutes!

Usagi: I wouldn't get this hungry if you'd stop being mean to me!

Rei: Prove it.

Usagi: I...uh...

Rei: [rolls her eyes] Whatever.

Ami: [from next to them] What's going on?

[They blink and see her bus pulling away.]

Usagi: You were late again and...

Ami: Poor Shinohara-sempai fell asleep, again. I'm beginning to worry about her.

Rei: Hmm. Maybe something is draining her energy.

Usagi: Not another menace! I've got a party to go to this Saturday and...

Ami: I think she's not getting enough sleep.

Rei: Well, I'll try and perform an augury tonight and see if I sense any evil at work.

Ami: Thanks, Rei.

Usagi: I'll ask Luna to go take a look around where your friend lives and see if she spots anything.

Ami: Good idea, Usagi.

Rei: [thought] Usagi? Good idea? This must be the end of the world.

* * * * *

[We see the roof of the Shinohara household. Luna is perched on the roof, hanging over the edge, peering down into windows.]

Luna: It would help if I had some idea which window to look in...

[Finally, she spots Rumiko.]

Rumiko: [busily studying at 7 am] Der Wombat fliegen um mitternacht. Der Wombat fliegten um mitternacht. Der Wombat...*
[*german: The wombat flies at midnight. The wombat flew at midnight. The wombat...]

Luna: [thought] Why's she studying German? Seems harmless enough. I guess I ought to watch her today, and see if anything shows up that might be draining her energy.

* * * * *

[That night, at Usagi's house. Usagi and friends are busily studying.]

Minako: Isn't the movie Seven Samurai during that period of history?

Makoto: Oh yeah, that one samurai was so handsome! He looked just like this guy I used to date and...

Ami: The youngest of them is about three times our age, Mako-chan.

Makoto: Maybe I'm thinking of the wrong movie.

Usagi: What did they eat in that period?

Rei: Otama-adama*.
[*Those sphere things that Usagi puts her hair up into. The name is also a kind of food.]

Usagi: [clutches her otama-adama] Aiyee!

[Luna walks in.]

Luna: I don't think youma or anything like them are to blame. She just studies all day. She's definitely not getting much sleep.

Ami: I wish there was something I could do for her.

Rei: [nods] My augury was rather bleak, though.

Ami: It was?

Rei: She faces a great choice that could mean life or death.

Makoto: That sounds bad.

Rei: That is bad.

* * * * *

[A week has passed. Ami is waiting at the bus stop for the bus with the other girls from her juku. The juken is the next day.]

Ami: [thought] I hope Shinohara-sempai is getting enough sleep tonight. She looks better rested.

[Rumiko is standing by the bus stop sign. She looks a little twitchy, but more awake than the previous nights. Ami comes over to her.]

Ami: Ready for your juken tomorrow?

Rumiko: As ready as I'll ever be.

Ami: Better make sure you get enough sleep.

Rumiko: [nods] I will.

Ami: You've been looking better the last couple of days.

Rumiko: I feel better. [thought] Caffeine works wonders.

Ami: Good luck!

Rumiko: Thanks, Ami-kohai.

* * * * *

[Three days later. The juken results have been posted. Ami has come to see how Rumiko did.]

Ami: So many names. Let's see. [wanders along past the several signs] Ah, there it is. She...didn't pass? I can't believe it. There must be some kind of mistake.

[Crying erupts nearby. She turns and sees Rumiko, who runs off.]

Ami: Shinohara-sempai!

[She runs after Rumiko, who stops at the nearby bus stop and collapses onto the bench, crying.]

Ami: I...they must have posted the wrong results!

Rumiko: [crying] I...was afraid this would happen. Mother's going to be crushed. Father will be so disappointed. I...what am I going to do?

Ami: You can take the test again. What happened?

Rumiko: I overslept and barely made it to the test. [starts crying again] Then I fell asleep in the middle of it! I couldn't think or anything...now I'm a ronin*...
[*ronin: literally, a samurai without a master. Figuratively, someone who has failed the juken and can't get into college.]

Ami: You'll do better next time.

Rumiko: That won't be for months! [bawls]

Ami: Well, that will give you more time to prepare.

Rumiko: [shrieks] I'm a failure!!!!!!!!! [People stare; Rumiko wilts.]

Ami: [thought] I hope this doesn't happen to Usagi. Although she might just say she never wanted to go to college anyway and then go eat. [out loud] There, there. Um. [Rumiko leans over and cries on Ami's shoulder.] It's going to be okay.

* * * * *

[We see Ami getting ready to go to bed.]

Ami: I really should have called Shinohara-sempai. Well, at least Luna can keep an eye on her. I hope she doesn't mind.

[The phone rings. She jumps out of bed and runs downstairs.]

Ami: If Usagi calls me again at this hour, mother will probably forbid me to use the phone ever again. [picks up the phone] Moshi Moshi*?
[*Moshi Moshi: Hello. Used when answering the phone.]

Luna: You'd better get over here...

Ami: What are you doing using a phone...You should have called me on my communicator.

Luna: I don't exactly have pockets! I'd attract attention wandering around with that in my mouth, so I had to phone you. I think she's going to jump. Or hang herself, or something...

Ami: Iyee! I'll be right there... [hanging up, she runs upstairs and tosses on some clothing, then downstairs to grab her bike] I hope mom sleeps through this...

* * * * *

[Stock footage of Ami bicycling through dark streets. What, no stock footage? Well, imagine some.]

* * * * *

[We see Ami looking at her super computer.]

Ami: Hmm. Looks like Luna is still up on the roof.

[She parks her bicycle and chains it to the gate of the Shinohara house, then looks up at the roof. She sees Rumiko up on the roof, petting Luna.]

Ami: Shinohara-sempai?

Rumiko: [starts] Hello?

Ami: [spots the ladder and climbs up it] Are you okay, Shinohara-sempai?

Rumiko: [faintly] I have to do the honorable thing.

Ami: [thought] Oh dear.

Rumiko: I have failed my family and destroyed my future.

Ami: You can take the tests again!

Rumiko: My honor is gone!

Ami: You'd have done fine if you'd gotten enough sleep in advance! Next time, you can...

Rumiko: [standing] There will be no next time.

Ami: Don't jump!

Rumiko: [pulling out a rope] Actually, I'm going to hang myself. If I jump, it might not kill me. We don't have a gun, and I can't stand blood....

Ami: Did someone tell you you have to do this?

Rumiko: [starts to cry] Mother was wailing about how I failed and wasn't worthy of all the effort they had put into raising me and...

Ami: She told you to kill yourself?

Rumiko: I could tell that was what she wanted.

Ami: But she didn't say it?

Rumiko: [quietly] Well, no, but she was so unhappy and crying and father just hid behind his paper like he always does when he's unhappy and..and....Mother is so ashamed of me! [clutches Luna tightly]

Ami: It'll be okay. Once your mother calms down, I'm sure she'll want to help you prepare for the next juken.

Rumiko: Everyone will be laughing at me and saying I am a failure.

Ami: You're not a failure, Shinohara-sempai. You just were so worried about it you fell apart. I know you'll do better next time. Everyone knows how smart you are.

Rumiko: I spend all my time studying. I can't go to parties. I hardly have any friends. I've never even been kissed. What's the point of being alive if everything I've sacrificed for turns to ashes in my hands?

Ami: I'll miss you if you die. And I know your family will.

Rumiko: [cries more] I'm so tired of studying all the time. I want to be free. [sits down hard. Too hard. She starts to slide off the roof as several tiles give way. Luna drops out of her hands and almost goes over the edge herself.] Ahhhhhh!!!!!!

Ami: [scrambles after her] Shinohara-sempai!

[She manages to grab Rumiko's hands right as Rumiko goes off the roof. She kneels near the edge and tries to pull Rumiko back up.]

Ami: [breathing hard] So heavy...

Rumiko: Maybe I should just let go and end it here.

Ami: No! You have to live! So you can prove you're not a failure! I won't let you die!

Rumiko: I'm not so sure if we're going to have a choice...[Ami is starting to be pulled off the roof by Rumiko's weight]

Luna: I would have called Mako-chan if I knew this was going to happen. Oops. [puts a paw to her mouth]

Rumiko: What was that?

Ami: I was just wishing my friend Mako-chan was here. She's really strong.

Luna: [whispered] I could call her.

Ami: [whispered] There's no way she'd get here in time.

Rumiko: What?

Ami: This is up to me and you. I'm going to pull back as much as I can and then you're going to need to grab onto something.

Rumiko: Like what?

Ami: [thought] The structural design of Japanese roofs is really deficient in things to grab onto to save yourself. [says] Me. I'm the only thing up here to grab onto.

Rumiko: I might pull you off!

Ami: I'll...take that chance.

Rumiko: Why are you doing this for me?

Ami: I...I might have ended up where you are now. If I hadn't met some people who changed my life. They haven't all been good changes, but I have friends and I'm happy. You deserve a chance at that. There is more to life than school, and more ways to succeed than good grades.

Rumiko: You're very brave.

Ami: Thank you. Now get ready.

[She gives a mighty yank and pulls with all her might. Rumiko sails up halfway over the edge of the roof and grabs onto her legs, pulling Ami down to where she is about to go off the roof herself. Rumiko manages to pull herself up onto the roof the rest of the way as Ami catches herself.]

Rumiko: You saved my life.

Ami: Now don't throw it away.

Rumiko: I...You really think Mother doesn't want me to...

Ami: She just wants what's best for you. That's why she pushed you so hard. She kept you up late studying, didn't she?

Rumiko: Hai.

Ami: I theorize she didn't do so well herself, and she wanted you to do better than she did. Then you could go to college and be happy.

Rumiko: Yeah, she always told me about...how did you know?

Ami: Even when a mother is hard on her daughter, she still loves her. I...I guessed. I know my mother is like that.

Rumiko: I guess I ought to go get some sleep now.

Ami: I'll call you tomorrow.

Rumiko: Thanks, kohai.

Ami: [picks up Luna and gets up] Anything for my sempai.

* * * * *

[We see Ami on the bus again with Yuki the next day.]

Ami: So then I got home and my parents chewed me out for running around in the middle of the night.

Yuki: How did you know Shinohara-sempai was in trouble?

Ami: I got a phone call. That's what woke up my parents.

Yuki: From who?

Ami: I..uh...I don't know. [thinking] I hate lying, but I can't tell her about Luna.

Yuki: Must have been a friendly spirit or something.

Ami: [smiling] Something like that.

Yuki: I hope she's going to be okay.

Ami: She just needs some support and some relaxation. Her family is taking a little vacation to help them all get over the stress from this.

Yuki: So who are you going to save next, Sailor Ami?

Ami: [blinks] Eh...uh...

Yuki: Just joking. You don't have to have super powers to be a heroine, I guess.

Ami: Why, thank you, Yuki.

Yuki: But I still wouldn't mind having them.

Ami: [smiling] Friends are better than super powers. I know I get tired of fighting monsters all the time.

Yuki: [laughs] Yeah, why I get attacked by five or six every morning. And they always ruin my breakfast.

[Ami falls out of her seat laughing.]

Yuki: [fake high, high pitched voice] Mom! There's a bakemono* in my cereal again!
[*bakemono: Goblin]

Ami: [clambers back up into her seat] Luckily, my life isn't quite that crazy.

[They both laugh. Iris out.]

The End.



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Symphony of the Planets: Mercury, 5 October 1996