The Times They Are A-Changin' (Part I)
Author note: and here is the second chapter of this reboot. I hope you will enjoy it. Please do not hesitate to tell me what you think about it.
--- Los Angeles, 19 Jan 1997---
“Doctor, is everything all right?” asked Joyce as she saw her pediatrician enter her room while scratching his head.
Her babies had gone for a postnatal exam. It was pure routine and also allowed the nurses to clean them. A smiling nurse followed, pushing a crib with her sleeping daughters.
“I can reassure you, Mrs. Summers, this is nothing to worry about, but Dawn seems to have the Genetic Expression Syndrome.”
Joyce frowned then remembered. It was something that had officially started during an interview of the world’s most famous pinkette in 1987. When Usagi Tomoe had been asked if she was making a fashion statement with her hair, she had simply replied that it was her natural color. Some reporters had started to look and discovered that this strange cousin of albinism had known cases since 1945. They had been, however, too few and away from each other to be considered anything else than an aberration, until some scientists interrogated by the reporters decided to publish a compiled study, naming it Genetic Expression Syndrome, GES for short. It was then that they realized one thing: the number of babies born with the GES was growing and there were now far too many to disregard the phenomenon.
“We don’t know. All we can say is that the GES now touches one newborn out of one hundred thousand and that the percentage is growing slightly over the years. Everything else is pure speculation.”
Joyce remembered seeing a subject on the TV about what some people believed them to be. Mutants, children of Satan, alien half-breeds, freaks, all of that had been said. That was a lot for people whose sole difference was a funny hair or eye color.
She took Dawn in her arms. It was true that shortly after her birth, the little tuft of hair on her head had looked black but now that it was dry and clean, it was easy to see its true color: dark emerald green. It was certainly exotic, but it suited her. She opened her eyes, looking curiously at her mother. They were the color of amethysts.
“Well, you’re going to be quite the looker, aren’t you?”
Elisabeth, that her father had already started to nickname Buffy, had more common colors. Blonde hair and blue eyes were not very common in her family, but that had been the case for one of Buffy’s great-grandmothers.
Having fed her babies, she put them back in the crib and switched on her room’s TV, the doctor and the nurse having left for now. The anchorman announced that Dave Kowalski, one of the channel’s top reporters who claimed to always be ‘where the news are made’ was in direct. The reporter appeared soon. He was a rugged man in his forties, often reminding Joyce of Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones. This time, he was in a room with a modern, but rather utilitarian design and next to him stood the tall figure of Usagi Tomoe.
“Here is Dave Kowalski,” started the man as the blinds behind the pair started to rise. “I am at the Apex Command Center with Usagi Tomoe.”
Joyce smiled. She knew where the interview was taking place and Kowalski was, indeed, up to his reputation. Beyond the glass bay were a plain of gray dust and gray mountains under a black, starry sky. One could have guessed only by looking at this sky. Even in the deepest of deserts, the stars didn’t have that clarity. For those paying less attention to detail, an object in the sky cleared any doubt on the location. An almost full Earth was shining in the starry sky.
“Ms. Tomoe, thank you for receiving me here, in Serenity City.”
Joyce knew like most people that the space race had resumed with a vengeance in 1988, the year Apex made its entrance on the space scene. It had all started with the inaugural flight of a new jet that had been developed in almost total secrecy. There had been hints of course. Some had wondered why Apex had signed a contract of development and maintenance with the Australian government regarding the Woomera Test Range, after a budget cut forced the USAF to discontinue their activities on and near the site in 1984.
In March 1988, a plane that looked like a single delta wing and carried a payload similar to the one of a medium-sized airliner took off from Woomera and flew to the Hokkaido Apex facility in three hours, with a top speed of Mach 7.2 and a trajectory culminating at an altitude of 120 km. A week later, during the return trip, the plane climbed to 250 km and put a satellite in orbit. Almost at the same time, Qantas and the JAL ordered each six of the shuttles geared for passenger transport, at a price similar to the one of a modern airliner.
Of course, many experts wanted to know how this was possible. They discovered that the Apex engineers had solved the problems of several revolutionary technologies, like the pulse detonation engines that propelled the Wayfarer shuttle. It wasn’t actually that difficult but, as often, nobody had found the right idea to make these things work, to bypass the problems revealed by the research… until then.
The impact was tremendous. The costs of ground-to-orbit travel had suddenly decreased by several orders of magnitude. In a moving speech, Hotaru Tomoe spoke of Tsiolkovsky and how Apex wanted to fulfill his dream of space colonization. They had therefore made public domain some of the technology of the Wayfarer. Of course, most governments knew that it just meant that Apex had already moved forward.
The proof came in the beginning of 1989, when six Wayfarers chained mission upon mission to carry up the pieces of a new space station. At first, it was just something normal then… people realized construction workers were staying up there and that what was assembled looked like a smaller version of the space station in Kubrick’s movie 2001, with a structure at the center of the gravity rings that seemed designed as an assembly hangar. The place was named Station Gateway.
The Babel Space Center became operational the same year, which led to other questions. The Wayfarer took off like a plane, so equatorial launch facilities had less of an interest. Then, during a talk show, one of the experts noted that Japan had obtained the geosynchronous orbital slot right on top of Babel and had plans to construct the largest space station ever built there. Another expert then asked jokingly if they wanted to build an orbital lift. Apex confirmed during a press conference a few days later, giving an estimated completion date for 2015.
What had been revealed of the project seemed mad, as it included fetching an asteroid and stabilizing it, then using part of its mass to produce the thousands of kilometers of cable necessary to link it to the ground. For many, it was preposterous, pure science fiction. It changed when, in 1991, a common Australian and Japanese mission, using Apex technology, created Serenity Base on the moon, the kernel of what was now Serenity City, the first lunar colony.
Understanding that the space colonization rocket was flying too high and too fast to be stopped, an emergency summit was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The treaties regarding space were reexamined and a new Space Colonization Treaty drafted. Territory would now be allocated to all nations by an UN commission following criteria like economic weight, population, territory on Earth and ability to go up there. For once, the UN had been terribly efficient as nobody could afford to dally. The Australian-Japanese Space Agency had no reason to wait.
The treaty, as well as the new space race, had side effects. The European Union accelerated its unification agenda, among other things to pool their territory rights. Japan and Australia, already economically linked through the web spun by Apex during the eighties, welcomed Taiwan and several island nations in the structure that would become the East Pacific Alliance in 1995. And now, in 1997, we’re on Mars,
thought Joyce. Seems like the futurists of the sixties got it partly right, even if it didn’t seem like it when the Apollo program was closed.
“I heard that there are talks about having a permanent population here,” said Kowalski.
“It’s true that it has been evoked during some of the recent meetings but there are difficulties with having children up here for the moment,” said Usagi. “While the base is sufficiently shielded from cosmic radiations, most of the installations being underground, there is the matter of the gravity. Thanks to the experience all nations are now sharing about the effects of space on living beings, we are pretty confident in having adults here for extended periods of time, provided they follow a training regimen to maintain muscle mass and bone density. The issue is that we don’t know enough of the impact of lighter gravity on the growth of children.”
“But there are studies done in this matter.”
“Of course. You know my opinion on the matter, Dave. It’s time for humanity to leave her cradle. The people currently on Mars will have to live there for months while they wait on the next launch window. They will also pave the way for the first settlers.”
--- Tokyo, nearly at the same time ---
“Shouldn’t you be downstairs, celebrating with the people from the astronautics department?”
Hotaru raised her head, smiling and looked at the pink-haired woman that just entered her penthouse’s living room. The Mars landing images were playing on the giant screen in front of the couch she was sitting upon, but she was more interested by the one year old girl in her arms.
“I have interviews tomorrow with NHK and probably others during my trip to California next week… No, tonight is Usagi’s show and since she’s giving the interview from the Moon… Besides, it also allows me to spoil my goddaughter,” added the Senshi of Saturn, mussing a little the silvery hair of the little girl.
Hotaru smiled as the baby took her godmother’s finger in her hand, put it in her mouth and bit it.
“Looks like she’s hungry,” said the other woman, smiling at her baby daughter.
“Yes… and her fangs are growing nicely… Akasha, there is a baby bottle in the heater.”
The woman called Akasha went to the apparel that was part of the bar and stopped it to extract a baby bottle maintained to a tasty 37 degrees Celsius. The bottle had been obviously developed for it and even had a kind of filter to separate efficiently any clot. Some of us that became rich used it to gain power… Hotaru also used it to create everyday appliances for the modern vampire.
Akasha remembered that day of 1985 when Hotaru Tomoe came to the Shuzen Castle. Issa Shuzen, the clan head had tested her power like he always did for new arrivals, pitting her against one of his lieutenants. Hotaru had fought well enough to earn her place, but not enough to provoke jealousy. Issa, as well as herself and Issa’s wife Gyokuro had however perfectly understood that Hotaru was holding back and had preferred to promote peace rather than establish dominance. Something that made me look to her as a potential friend, while Gyokuro despised her lack of will to use her power… and a friend she is, donating her blood to help me save Moka when she was born so weak, declaring herself her godmother following the human tradition…
The little girl was now following the bottle with big scarlet eyes and Akasha took her in her arms, feeding her.
“Here… tasty AB positive, freshly donated from today,” she said, remembering the label on the bottle.
She sat near her friend with Moka on her lap. Her baby daughter was still drinking happily, enjoying the taste of blood.
“How was your date with Issa?” asked Hotaru.
“My offer still stands, you know.”
Akasha sighed. She was, technically, only the mistress of the head of clan Shuzen. Issa’s wife really didn’t like her and her daughter. Hotaru had more than once proposed her to come live at the Arcology and to take Moka with her.
“It’s… I cannot leave the castle and Moka has her big half-sister Kalhua. Besides, Gyokuro is not always there.”
“I won’t force you. I just want you to know that there will always be a place for you and Moka, here.”
“Hotaru… I know that you and Usagi are probably the richest Yokai on Earth and with her being a Yasha it reminds me of the time I traveled with Touhou Fuhai. You also did a lot by funding Yokai Academy and giving work to many of us. But you must also know that some Yokai hate you.”
“Them and a good part of the Western Demon factions, starting with the ghouls…”
Akasha had a disgusted scowl. While ‘western vampires’ called vampires like Hotaru, Moka or her Purebloods, the latter considered themselves the only true vampires. They therefore called the ‘common vampires’ ghouls, considering demon-infested corpses had no right to be called vampires.
“A pity we’re not more numerous… I do my best to be tolerant towards most Yokai species but… ghouls. As Kahlua would say: Eew!”
Hotaru smiled, remembering Moka’s half-sister. She was now a bouncing four year-old girl. She was also gentle, disliking violence as much as a vampire could. While, contrarily to ghouls, Purebloods vampires had a soul, their instincts, the very way their brain was wired, wasn’t human. Battlelust and pride were a part of them. They understood life and death in a way that would have looked psychopathic to many humans. They could fight with pure killing intent one minute then laugh together the next without the slightest hard feeling.
“As for the ‘domestic menaces’… let’s see if I can guess: Gyokuro and her clique of human-haters are a given. I know that they call me the blood traitor behind my back. Not more for now but they won’t hesitate to gang on me if they feel they can get away with it. Which could be amusing…”
Akasha smiled to her friend, wondering once again how powerful her friend truly was.
“Don’t forget the Miao family,” said Akasha. “Since Usagi helped the Huang to relocate to Taiwan to escape the problems with Hong Kong’s retrocession…”
--- Oahu, 15 Aug 2000 ---
“I’m glad to see that the twins and Celia get along so well,” said Lorraine ‘Lolly’ Takahashi to her sister.
In the living room, two three-year old were busy playing with their slightly younger cousin.
“How are things go with Seiki’s family?” asked Joyce.
“I think they accepted me… and things are a lot better now that I speak Japanese.”
Joyce put her hand on her sister’s. Four years ago, Lolly had fallen in love with and married a Japanese engineer working in Hawaii. The rather traditional parents of Seiki Takahashi had a hard time accepting their gaijin daughter-in-law.
“If I remember well, your mother-in-law…”
“She knows English fairly well… but she prefers to help me improve my Japanese if you see my meaning.”
Joyce giggled. She remembered how Lolly had told her that Sadako Takahashi had made it her mission to ‘civilize’ her daughter-in-law.
“Are you still…”
“Moving to Tokyo next year? Yes. Seiki is being promoted with the end of his project here. Celia is still very young, she will adapt… probably better than me.”
“With the new jets, Tokyo is only four hours away from Los Angeles… well six if you count formalities at both ends. We’ll come visit… and you’ll do the same.”
Joyce hugged her sister.
--- Apex Arcology, Tokyo, 1 Jan 2001 ---
Usagi was holding an ice pack against the top of her head. The party she had attended in Taipei with most of the Huang family had been rather… wild. And Touhou Fuhai probably gave lessons about being an old pervert to Grandpa Hino…
The party had also catered to a political necessity. By helping the Huang to relocate from Hong Kong to Taiwan, thus escaping problems caused by the retrocession of the colony to China, Usagi had encroached on the territory of the Zheng Dao Hui, Taiwan’s main Triad. Negotiating a treaty between the two organizations had taken her three years and this New Year party was in fact the occasion to celebrate the peace.
She crashed on Hotaru’s couch, preferring to keep her eyes closed, all three of them. This was another reason for which she got along very well with the Huang. They were all Yashas, spirits of good or bad fortune. They were the last of the people of Nemesis. And the power of Sailor Nemesis saw fit to change me to match my position as their queen… At least, with the black crescent on my brow changed into my third eye, I don’t have that shudder every time I look in the mirror and forget to cover it with a glamour.
“You had a reason to tell me to leave my nice, comfy bed?” asked Usagi as she felt Hotaru entering the living room.
“Too much sake?”
“If only… the barmen at the club I was last night have a knack to whip up mean cocktails.”
“Drink this, it will help you recover,” she said as she gave her a glass of honey-colored liquid.
Usagi sat and took the glass. It didn’t smell like alcohol but she remembered some of the ‘tonics’ Hotaru had a tendency to mix, including elements like raw beef liver. She took a sip, then, almost immediately, a second, bigger one. It was wonderful. The headache was disappearing and she felt her energy replenishing.
“What is it?”
She remembered that name. Amrita, also called ambrosia, was a magical drink brewed during the Silver Millennium. She also remembered that the recipe was lost with the fall of the planetary kingdoms and the remaining stocks since long drunk or gone stale.
“You remember the problems we had in Sanaiscara?”
Hotaru grunted in a very unladylike manner. The installations of Saturn’s capitol city had been barely working which was why they had cut their stay to the shortest. Among other things, the only things that were still edible were foul-tasting survival pills.
“You mean that?”
“Yep, I mean exactly that.”
One of the things that the Sailor Senshi, apart maybe from Pluto, never remembered correctly was the extent of the Silver Millennium technology. Of course, Ami had guessed a lot from studying the Mercury computer but… she was still far from it.
As a corollary to that memory hole, there was a part of Beryl’s attack that the Senshi did not remember: the intricate computer viruses that crashed the Matrix of the Moon Kingdom, preventing most of the automated defenses from working… as well as killing a lot of the population that depended on artificial environments on several of the planets. Selene’s desire of centralization, by standardizing and networking every system, had actually made the attack possible… except on the quarantined Saturn.
Because of some basic information links still existing, Sanaiscara’s systems were still affected, but the chain of failures could not reach the point that destroyed physical systems in other places. The Saturnian computer network was already rebooting and restoring backups when the reincarnation spell was cast.
The Silver Crystal magic rewrote reality to create the planetary castles, poor replacements of everything that had already been lost. Worse, it forced what was left of the administration AIs to play the role of the Sailor Guardians. Saturn’s computer systems could never finish their reboot. Stuck in a loop that strained the systems more and more, Sanaiscara was reduced to emergency power when Hotaru and Usagi reached it in 1981.
“We were lucky that my grandmother did not revoke your administrator privileges.”
“She had no need. Sanaiscara was quarantined. We could receive data, but not send anything in the network. Her intent was either to let us rot or that the imprisonment would convince us to leave for another system. With Nirrti missing, I didn’t want to go and chose to wait in coldsleep.”
“She could still have erased it to be sure that… and if she let them be, hoping you would correct her mistake?”
“With everything falling apart around her like it did… that’s possible.”
“You could ask her avatar in Serenity City?”
“Sorry… but no. It is better if we never see each other again.”
“As you wish… so the repairs are finished?”
“Yes, which means, among other things, that I can now do that. Mini-me?”
“Can you please cease to call me like that?” replied the eerie voice of the Saturn Guardian. “It was already grating when I was forced to use chibi-you as avatar…”
“Then appear under your real guise so that Usagi can see you.”
“As you wish…” replied the AI, its voice deepening.
A holographic avatar appeared in the living room. At first, it was almost looking like the child version of Sailor Saturn Usagi was used to. It soon started to morph, becoming a rather chubby man with… an elephant head.
“Ganesha,” said Usagi… “Of course. In the Puranas, it is said that Parvati molded Ganesha out of clay to protect her and that Shiva, having decapitated him, replaced his head with the one of an elephant.”
“Translated: I created the main code and my late husband found it too aggressive and single-minded. He rebuilt part of it to add safeguards and full sentience,” said Hotaru. “Thank you, Ganesha.”
The elephant-headed hologram winked at them.
“Now that we have full access to my old resources, we can think about repairing what can be on the other planets. The full access to the sensors also allowed me a confirmation: the others are reincarnated since roughly 1997. I cannot tell exactly when or who they are.”
“I think we should find them, but stay hidden, maybe just stir their lives a little in case it’s too shitty. They’re toddlers, so let them live their lives for now. As Mom wished for us ‘to all be together again’, destiny is probably already weaving links between us… On my side, thanks to my summoning training with Touhou Fuhai, I think I should be able to find our two furry friends.”
Hotaru smiled. Seeing the two mooncats Luna and Artemis would be really nice…
“Speaking of Touhou Fuhai,” said the vampire, “you should bring him a crate of Amrita. From what I was able to deduce, he should appreciate it.”
Usagi leaned back on the couch, enjoying the way the legendary drink made her feel all fuzzy inside. Amrita was indeed the liquor of immortality… but only for organisms geared to benefit from it. In other words, it replenished the life energy of the members of the races that settled the planetary kingdoms. Ordinary humans – or other nonhuman races – only had a temporary energy boost, with a cumulative risk of metabolic meltdown.
“Sure… but it will probably tip him on who we really are.”
“They already have their doubts anyway. By the way… another thing I managed to repair is this,” said Hotaru as she gave her a small golden stick with four claws forming a globe at each end.
“That looks like a vajra,” replied Usagi, remembering representations of Indra.
“It’s just a different model of the henshin stick you had as Sailor Chibimoon. I linked it to Nemesis, but you can still customize the appearance of the stick and the one of your battle armor.”
“Customize?” she asked, her eyes sparkling. “You mean… I can choose my own costume?”
“Yes, you can. I uploaded the manual on your server.”
“Thank you, sis!” said the pink-haired Senshi, hugging her adoptive sister.
Hotaru smiled, thinking that now that she had cracked those codes, she had a costume to design too. After all, it often happens in manga too… new season, new costumes.
--- Los Angeles, Spring Break 2006 ---
“Too bad you two got that nasty bug at the same time,” said Elisabeth ‘Buffy’ Summers.
Celia Takahashi, Buffy’s cousin, sighed. It was true that being stuck in the hospital instead of enjoying her stay in California was a pain, but with that new flu they spoke about in the news, her aunt and uncle had preferred to have them in observation at the hospital for the night. She had to admit that she was still feverish, but she would be glad to go to her cousin’s home the next day.
“Mom wanted no discussion, Liz,” said Dawn, who had always refused to call her sister Buffy. “At least Celia and I are in the same room.”
“Relax cousin,” said Celia. “We’ll be home tomorrow… and the weather is dreadful anyway.”
Buffy smiled. They still discussed a moment and after she had left, the two sick nine-year old decided to take a nap.
“Do you still… have your dreams?” asked Celia.
“Yeah… but they vary. In the latest, I’m on a kind of makeshift tower that stands above field of… there are a lot of people lying on the ground below and I think they’re dead. Someone I believe to be Liz, but grown-up, is trying to console me about something then she jumps in a huge light. That’s the point where I wake up shivering.”
“The one about the Moon was cooler.”
“Yeah… it was. Let’s try to sleep, okay?”
Dawn had been plagued by bad dreams for years. In those dreams, things usually ended badly. She had kept some of the details for herself. She was astute – some would say cynical – enough to know that the child psychologist she had seen about it would not react well if she told them she witnessed people being killed with rather gruesome details in some of them. She didn’t know how, but she was less scared by the deaths than by the feeling of powerlessness that usually overwhelmed her during those dreams.
She drifted into sleep. As usual, a dream started, though it was a new one. She was in the hospital room she shared with Celia and some other kids. There was a man entering the place, with a black cloak and a large-brimmed hat. He walked silently and had a strange face. When he approached one of beds, the one that was the nearest of the entry, she saw his face better and knew that it wasn’t a man. It was a bogeyman with huge fangs and creepy eyestalks that moved out of the monster’s eye sockets. From the way the child the eyestalks touched started to breathe, she knew that she would witness death.
“No… Enough,” she said as she got up, bracing against the fever. “I cannot stand it anymore.”
The bogeyman turned, looking at her.
“You cannot stand it anymore… then maybe I should take you first to end your pain. What do you think, child?” it asked with a derisive voice. “You have such lovely colors,” it added as its eyestalks retracted, looking now fully at her. “I wonder how you will taste.”
Dawn felt disgusted by the gaze of the thing, like if it dirtied her solely by looking at her. She scowled; trying to call on that older version of herself she sometimes was in her dreams.
“I dare you to try… youma. These children are under my protection,” she said, in a voice that suddenly sounded far older than her years.
This word, the way she had called the monster had escaped her lips without her knowing where it came from. She didn’t care. She felt something rising in her, banishing the fever. For an instant, the bogeyman flickered, but her eyes adjusted. She was seeing it a lot more clearly. She saw when the creature had begun and knew when it would end. She stood defiantly, taking a fighting stance.
The demon known as Der Kindestod was about to laugh when he saw something on the kid’s brow. A symbol was shining in black lined with almost blinding neon green, a symbol that looked like a horizontal eight.
“It doesn’t matter, little witch. You’re barely standing.”
Dawn didn’t listen. She knew the moves. She had done them countless times in so many timelines. Contrarily to what some believed, she didn’t need her staff for this… spell. Her left hand moved, wrapped in a comet of black strands of mist that reeked of the foul stench of the Styx. Her right hand moved, dragging glowing amethyst wisps in its path.
She saw the demon rush and she determined all the possible outcomes. She danced to the left, making the step that would allow her to dodge its first slash while her hands joined, mixing the two mists.
“Dead…” she started to whisper.
The mists merged, becoming blinding amethyst light, like a small ringed planet between her hands. She knew she was far from her usual power, but it would be more than enough. Outer possible outcomes came to her mind, and she chose to make another step, dodging another lash.
“Stay still so that I can flay you!” yelled the demon.
She put a knee on the ground, pointing her hands towards the monster.
The ‘planet’ left her hands, striking the bogeyman from below and slamming it against the ceiling. It screamed as it felt its matter unravel, its molecules dispersed not only through space, but through time.
“What… what are you?” it asked.
“Guarded by the Planet of Time, I am the Soldier of Revolution, Sailor Pluto!” she said, a mysterious smile on her lips, while the youma finished disintegrating.
“Still too early,” she said with a tired voice as the symbol on her brow faded. “I can sleep a while more.”
Dawn didn’t try to understand too much about the sense of that dream, but it had felt good to be able to do something for once. She would try to remember that for the next one.
In the next bed, Celia looked with round eyes, wondering if the fever did make her see things. She had often played superheroes with Buffy and Dawn but this… My cousin is a magical girl!