I woke up without help this time. The room looked bright to me. Sunlight painted a foot-wide strip on the floor and a little way up one wall. Besu was talking to someone I hadn't met yet--no, I had met this woman before. "You're my dad's lawyer. What are you doing here?"
Besu said, "Leon-san, this is Rei-san."
"Oh," I said. And then I said "Oh!" as I remembered what Besu had said about the two ladies who could see the future. "Pleased to meet you," I tacked on lamely.
The lady who could see the future inspected me with deep purple eyes. She acknowledged me with a slight bow, and exchanged some quick Japanese with Besu. Then she said to me, "You are a handsome young man. I can see why Nereid likes you so much."
I must have blushed. "I'm only eight."
"Almost nine," said the beautiful raven-haired lawyer.
A toddler, a baby girl more than a year old who could walk and run but still a baby girl, scampered over to the lawyer, as if she wanted to make sure I wouldn't steal her. Another baby regarded me from a carrier set on the table with the same purple eyes as her mother's--until she fussed, and her eyes grew larger and turned as red as Besu's, as did her hair.
The lawyer picked up the changeling, saying, "Seiko, Leon-san is a friend," and probably repeating it in Japanese. She handed the child to me, while the other climbed up in her lap. The changeling had sprouted tiny wings, something like a bat's, with fine white hair on the back and pink skin in front.
"She is already a magic girl?"
"She will be bishoujo senshi, yes," said the changeling's mother, sounding less than happy. "She is not grown enough to control herself. She transforms whenever she is upset."
I delicately scratched her wings, rather like I would a big-eared dog's like a basset or a hound, and it was the right thing to do, because she smiled and cooed at me.
"It proper you call Rei-san 'Ms. Kumada' or 'Ms. Hino,' Leon-san," said Besu.
"Hino . . . I remember that from court."
"I use me maiden name when I work. But I am also Ms. Kumada, after my husband, of course. You may call me 'Rei' if you wish. You are Besu's stepson. You are like family."
I suggested, "I think 'Aunt Rei' is about right." "Auntie" was too girly. Ms. Kumada nodded.
Then I figured out something else. "The White House--you were the lady who got beat up so bad by the terrorists. I remember they called you 'Ms. Kumada' then." Again, she nodded. "And your husband--" Again, a nod.
"My Yuuichirou did not live to see Seiko. She was born after."
"That's too bad," I said, or something equally lame. I felt close enough to Aunt Rei by then, after holding Sei, who had to be a great secret, that I asked the big question I hadn't at first. "You can see into the future?"
"I have some talent."
"And you think a big war is coming in, like, ten years, or maybe twenty years?"
"Maybe a war," she said. "Some kind of crisis that could be very bad. But the future is never certain, Leon-san."
"If it's a war, I'll be old enough to fight in ten years."
"Hai," she whispered. It was quiet for a long time after that, with only baby Sei cooing with pleasure as I continued to give her wing-scratches. Sei, not Sieko. "-ko" is a particle meaning "child." Tomiko sat silently in her mother's lap, looking at her, at me, and then at her. Tomiko was Tomiko because one of her grandmothers had been a Tomiko. But Sei was never a Seiko to very many besides her mother, and Aunt Rei never a Reiko at all, though I was to meet many grown up Reikos and Seikos later in my life.
But finally another question escaped through my mouth. "If you can see the future, why didn't you stop those guys at the White House before they did it?"
"The future is very difficult," said the seeress. "I did see some of it. But we thought something else was going to happen, something we had worried about for a long time. And it did happen: Your government found out who we were. But not the way we thought." She wiped her eyes again. "The future is like that. If you can see it at all, you cannot see all of it, cannot be sure what you see is what will be or what might be. And when you see what will be, you may not see how it will come to be."
Swallowing this oracle, I gave Sei back to her mother and more or less fled into the bathroom, away from more trouble. I had to go anyway; I'd stumbled straight from bed over to the strangers in the room. In the bathroom, I found that Besu had laid out clothes for me. At eight (almost nine) I was old enough to pick out my own clothes and old enough to want to, and I could have done just that, gone out and got clothes and come back. But Besu had thought of doing this mom thing, something my Mom would have never thought of and Grandma might not have. Anyway, it was convenient having clothes in the bathroom, because I didn't have to go out for a little while longer and risk facing Aunt Rei and her spooky insights.
It wasn't a big thing, but it was the right thing. Doing a small thing at the right thing can be a big thing.
When I got out of the bathroom, Nereid was there. Now that I believed there might be a war I'd have to fight in as soon as I grew up, you might think that was the biggest thing on my mind, even too big to pretty much shut out everything else. But you would be wrong. Something else seemed bigger and bigger to me, the more I thought about it as I stalled in the bathroom, hoping Aunt Rei would move on. That something was big right now, not ten years from now, maybe. That thing was Nereid.
Up until then, I thought Nereid was pretty neat, for a girl. I mean, she knew important stuff, like how to beat the Death Ducks. She could throw and catch pretty good for a girl. Well, pretty good for a guy of eight or nine. It was easy to be her friend, even if she was a little bossy and kept lecturing everyone about stuff, whether or not they asked.
But now I thought again about how her sisters had teased her about me, and what Besu had said, and now what Aunt Rei had said, and I began to think they weren't just teasing. Nereid might think I was going to be her boyfriend! Might think I actually was her boyfriend! This was a huge, monumental, scary thing to me at eight (almost nine.)
Nereid wasn't the only person who had come into the room while I was gone. Sitting with Besu and Aunt Rei was a third woman, a woman whose face I recognized from the cases of some of Grandpa's CDs and whose eyes I recognized from Nereid, for they were the same eyes. She was Michiru, the violinist: Neried's mom. She was the other woman Besu had said could see the future.
Nereid's mom spoke first. "You are Leon-san?" she said politely, and yet in a way that conveyed to me that she was very much in charge, and perhaps not pleased with me. "Yes, Ma'am," I replied. She was definitely a "Ma'am."
Nereid's mom grilled me. I don't remember much about what she really said. It's not important to my story now, and it really wasn't important then. What was important was, I'm sure now, is that I stood up to her. Well, better than I thought I could.
Nereid did not utter so much as one word while I was on her mother's grill. I did start to figure out some things then, like why Nereid was so precise about everything she did, so neat, so organized, so in-control almost always. These were all things that were part of her mom—but moreso in big ways.
I may have had a frightening glimpse of my own future then, but I am not sure now. Memory is not immutable, and it seems suspiciously plausible that I should have had an insight then. So I will not claim that I had any visions of that nature on that Sunday morning.
I am absolutely, positively, 100%, no-two-ways-about it sure that when Michiru finally said to Neried, "Why don't you take your friend to breakfast?"—in English, not Japanese or French or one of the other languages they used, so I could understand—I flew out of our room, down the corridor, and around a corner, before I realized I had no idea where I was. Nereid caught up with me and showed me where to go.
Breakfast wasn't downstairs somewhere, in whatever dining rooms or restaurants the hotel had--it had both, but I hadn't been downstairs yet. There was a sort of lounge on our floor, an open area where some rooms might have been, and there were tables and chairs set up, some with food, some so you could sit down to eat. There were also chairs and sofas, which I guessed were there all the time, but they were pushed to the sides of the room, or even out in the hall.
The food didn't look that good to me. There were cafeteria-type scrambled eggs, some cold cereals (not any of the good ones with sugar) in little boxes, a bowl of mush, and some fruit. There were also strange stuff, like rice and tofu, which I could at least recognize, and something that looked like soup but wasn't hot, and some kind of strange looking fish. I asked about the fish. "Those are kippers," said Nereid.
There were loaves of sliced white bread and toaster muffins next to some toasters. But that was about it. No bacon, no sausage, no pancakes or waffles.
"You don't like anything you see?" said Nereid.
"Well, it's all right, I guess," I said, poking dubiously at a kipper with a fork.
"Would you like something else?" Nereid didn't ask that; the voice came from behind me, and above, and it was a woman's voice. I turned, and there was a big woman behind me. She wasn't fat; she was just big, scaled up. Maybe not quite as tall as Haruka, who was a little taller than Dad, but more powerfully built, and with big . . . well, she was big.
"What else could I have?"
"I could make you an omelette. Or eggs any way you like." She indicated the cafeteria-type eggs. "Not like that. Fresh."
"That would be nice. With ham and cheese?"
"No ham," she said. "But I have cheese and some potatoes and tomatoes. Does that sound better."
Nereid said something in Japanese, and the woman replied, and then left the lounge.
"What did you say?" I asked.
I looked around the big room and saw no one I recognized. I asked, "Do you know where my dad is?"
"Maybe with Mr. Tiggs."
"Who is Mr. Tiggs?"
"He runs security for this place," said Nereid before biting into a half-orange. "Wmm smm?" she mumbled, offering me another half-orange.
I took the half-orange but I didn't eat it yet. "Security?"
"Detective stuff. Mr. Tiggs used to be with the FBI."
"Yes. Maybe he will go back."
"How do you know so much about him?"
"He married Auntie Setsuna. He is one of the few who know about us, Leon-san."
"Oh," I said. "I guess that makes sense. Since he already knows. How many people know?"
"Not many." She began counting off fingers. "The President of America, the President of France, the Prime Minister of Japan and their Empress--she is about as old as we are."
"Makoto-san? The lady who had the trouble with the Quintleys' church?"
"Yes, Auntie Makoto," she said, pausing. Then she went on to another finger. "And there are family like you. Auntie Usagi's parents, Auntie Naru's mother, Chikuma-san who is the mother of Hiro, who is sort of my cousin because his father was Haruka-san's brother, and Hiro himself, of course, but he is only four. Auntie Nancy--we are not sure she will come--and most of her family know. Auntie Carmen and Auntie Alison, the little man--"
"Dr. Alvarson. We call him the little man because he is a little man. You know, very short. Almost as short as me. And his wife, but she is also Minako's mother. Auntie Olivia, who is Auntie Minako's sister in law, but both their husbands are dead now, but she lives with Auntie Minako and the others in the big house. She is the housekeeper. And Ann Marie our housekeeper and nanny. But Uncle Roland does not know."
"He doesn't?" I said. "Your stepfather doesn't know?"
"No," said Nereid. "Auntie Naru made up a spell to help us, and Sarah used her power on him once when she saw her in her senshi form, but they both say it was easy. Uncle Roland does not want to see anything that might be wrong about his family. He doesn't even notice when he helps give Ama-chan a bath."
"Why is a bath so special?"
"Amphritrite always grows a mermaid's tail when she's in water," said Neried. "I can do that and Maman. But we don't around Uncle Roland." She thought a moment. "Maybe once Maman did to play a joke on Uncle Roland. But I didn't see it. I guessed that this is what happened from what she said to Haruka-papa once."
I laughed. Then I asked, "You know any of these guys?" Some were women, but most were guys--kind of tough-looking guys. And the women, they all looked tough, too, taking a closer look.
"A few of them are Kakyuu-sama's people. I have seen them at the big house. I think the others are all government people."
"FBI, Secret Service, police. Maybe some soldiers who aren't dressed up like soldiers. I don't think they let any of the regular hotel people up on this floor . . . Oh, look! It is Auntie Petzu and Juzo. And Zoë." She took off.
"From Kinmoku," she said over her shoulder as she stopped and firmly gestured that I should follow.
I caught up with Nereid just as the three new people met up with her. The was pretty tall, and she picked up Nereid like she was a toddler and planted a loud smack! of a kiss on her cheek. In the process, she flipped her head, and a ponytail swooped up from behind her and floated gracefully down. I noticed a detail: Her pony tail had the same sort of tie as the lady who had taken my order, with two green crystal balls. She spoke Japanese with Nereid and the others, but when she set Nereid down (Nereid was still blushing) she said to me in regular Americanese, "You're Leon, the major's boy?"
Nereid corrected her. "He's a colonel now."
Zoë bent down and extended her hand to me. "Zoë Kino. You look a lot like your dad."
I shook her hand. Zoë was not a very common name in 2010, and I remembered it from the day before. "You were adopted by Mrs. Urawa?"
"Yes, I was," she said, moving about halfway from where she had been to full seriousness. "Okasan was not married to Ryo-san then, so I took "Kino" as my new name. That was Mom's name before she married."
I nodded, and when I had absorbed it, I said, "Yesterday we were with some people who thought she was really bad. Well, Mrs. Quintley did, I think. One of them."
She was puzzled. Nereid spoke some Japanese, and then she said, "Oh, New Gospel people. Yeah, they really came after us. But I think their Reverend Mr. Johnny Lee busted too many teeth trying to chew us up. I don't think he's after us now."
"Mrs. Quintley sure was, I think. And her girls at first, but I think Nereid set them straight."
I got nice looks from Zoë and Nereid then. I felt good--but weird, because I remembered that Nereid might have a crush on me. I wanted to change the subject. So I put the ball in someone else's court: I asked Zoë: "Is this your boyfriend?"
They guy blushed, an impressive sight because he had a very fair complexion and turned very, very red. Zoë gave a hair flip I didn't know how to translate as she said: "He is a good friend. Our mothers are good friends." Much later, after I had seen a few hundred female hair flips, I knew what she really meant was: "Of course he's my boyfriend, but I don't want him to know that yet." But I just accepted her words, since my hair-flip vocabulary was so limited.
The older lady with the ponytail returned with my omelet and one for Nereid, for the ZoŽ and Juzo and his mother and for a couple of other people. There was a boy with her this time, with yellow hair. ZoŽ pulled out a chair for the boy and set him on it, and pulled out another chair and insisted that the lady sit in it. I mean, I didn't understand their arguing because it was in Japanese, but I figured out what it was about because ZoŽ left (taking along Juzo) and the lady who brought the omelets was sitting down.
I took a seat between Juzo's mom and Neried, on the other side of the table.
"Do you like your omelet?" asked the lady who had been argued into sitting.
"It's great," I said, or something even lamer. It was the best omelet I'd eaten up until that point eight (almost nine) years into my life. But I had other thoughts racing toward my mouth, and they won. "Uh, are you Mrs. Urawa?"
"Hai," she answered. Japanese for "yes."
I glanced at Nereid. She was looking "angelic," the little schemer.
The boy was Philip, and I seldom saw Mrs. Urawa without Philip for the rest of our stay in Orlando.
Actually we weren't in Orlando or even the same county; none of the Disney properties were then. All the parks were south of our hotel, and we were south of all the Disney parks and all their competition, too. The hotel was sort of all by itself, and that made it safer for us--and for the Queen of Kinmoku, of course. So we had the whole top floor to ourselves, and the floor below had nothing but her people and FBI, Secret Service, cops, and some soldiers like Dad, though none of them were dressed up like soldiers.
We weren't going to any of the parks that day. It was Sunday, the busiest day, even in summertime when every day was busy; it was good to rest up before starting out on the parks; it was polite to wait for the others. But I didn't know exactly who we were waiting for. "Their queen?" I asked Nereid.
"Kakyuu-sama is here now."
"She is? Where?"
"Maybe with Auntie Usagi. I don't know."
"Then who are we waiting for?" "Shi is not here yet. And Kakyuu-sama's husband."
"I thought you said she was here."
"No, Shi is with Kakyuu-sama's husband."
"But you just said she was here."
"No I didn't."
"You just said their queen was here!"
"Yes, she is here. I saw her in the hall before you got up."
"But you just said she was with--wait a minute. Who is it who is with the queen's husband?"
"Shi. Her name is Shi, Leon-san. Miyo's sister. One of Lord Seiya's daughters." She shook her head. "Oh, and Kageshirou. He is Kakyuu-sama's son, but not her husband's."
"Oh," I said, nodding wisely. "I see. Someone else is his father."
"No, Kakyuu-sama is his father. Taiki-sama is his mother."
I stopped in my tracks. "Wait a minute, Kakyuu is their queen, isn't she?" "Or king when she is a man I suppose," said Nereid as a matter of fact like any other. "But I have never seen Kakyuu-sama as a woman. Some Kinmoku people can choose to be men or women, or boys or girls. Most of them only once, but not all, and it takes a long time to change from one to the other. The Kinmoku senshi like Kakyuu-sama or the Lords of Light can change right away, though. They are always female when they are in senshi form. Otousan was still a man, but he is the only senshi I know of who remained a man as a senshi."
I think my jaw had dropped close to the floor by then.
Nereid frowned and said. "Someone is listening to Reverend Swainson preach on television." She started out and I followed. I don't think she even bothered to give a signal. Maybe she figured my leash was already on tight by then.
My own ears picked out the preaching before we got to the source, a room with the door partly open. Inside we found my dad, a very black man even taller than Dad, a very tall, very beautiful woman and a tall person next to her who wore the longest ponytail I'd ever seen. I figured out that the one with the long ponytail must be the translator for the very tall woman--Queen Kakyuu, but I didn't know that until this incident was over. Her translator was Lord Seiya.
Further inside, sitting on a bed, a girl nursed a baby that had wings: pretty wings with feathers of many colors. I guess she was technically a woman if she was nursing a baby, but she looked young, like maybe Sarah's age I guessed--one of my good guesses that day. She wasn't watching the screen, even though she was closer to the TV than anyone else. Reverend Swainson was on, in his purple preacher's robe. I only remembered his name then because of the Quintleys the day before. I saw the girl make a face when the reverend stopped for a moment for applause.
I sort of infiltrated the room until I was next to my dad without, I thought, being noticed much. Further in I was able to see a crib, with another baby, and Sarah's mom parked by it in her wheelchair. She was moving the mobile around, entertaining the baby in the crib. She had a baby in her lap, a big one like Tomiko, who watched me with deep blue eyes, even deeper than her mothers, while she sucked on a bottle with some kind of juice in it. Her eyes were just like Kimi's or Ishi's, but otherwise I could tell she would look different. In fact . . .
In fact, she had the same eyes as Lily, too, and the same eyes as the girl with the winged baby.
It was Nereid. She had infiltrated without me noticing. I asked myself if she could read minds, but just myself. Instead, I pointed at the screen, and said, "I remember him a little. He's on cable."
Dad stopped talking with the tall black man just then, but just for a second. Then they started talking again. They were speaking English, I guess, but not any I could understand then. Words like "perimeter" and "contingency" and "mission parameters," and so on.
Down below them, Nereid responded just loudly enough so I could hear. "He has two cable channels here, and one we get in Paris."
The girl with the baby was closer to our level than to Dad's, and she spoke up. "You'll have another one soon."
"We will?" asked Nereid, sounding surprised. I had already noticed that Nereid was not surprised very often.
"Daddy Dearest is starting a Christian network. Not all church or all news from a Christian viewpoint. More like a regular network."
Sarah's mother spoke out: "Why would he do this?" Everyone else in the room turned to her instantly when she spoke, even Kakyuu.
"Maybe just to make money. But Daddy Dearest usually has more than one reason for doing anything," said the girl who was already a mother. She said "Daddy Dearest" much the same way Dad or I said "Good Old Fred." "Anyway," she continued, "he's trying it out in Europe first, and if it works there, then he'll bring it over here."
"That's been tried before," said my dad.
"Not by Daddy Dearest," the girl said with bitter pride. "He must think he can make it work. And he might be right."
This was important intelligence. Think about it: Just having a network with advertising would give the Reverend some influence over advertisers he didn't have before. They would, for instance, most likely tailor their commercials so they could play on the Reverend's network. Since it would be less expensive to use the same commercials on all networks, it meant that they would never make advertisements that might upset the Reverend and his people. Even if he ran it as just another network, hands-off, just making more money would give him more influence.
But I saw none of that then, not because I wasn't smart enough to figure it out if I had tried, but because I wasn't interested much. What I wanted to know then was: "How come you're here if your dad--" I answered my own question. She had a baby with wings, making her the mother of one of them. And--"Are you one of them too?"
"What you should ask is 'am I bishoujo senshi,' Master Leon. You must be the colonel's son." She talked a bit through her nose, which was a pretty big nose (and a lot like Lily's and like the Reverend's, I saw now.)
"Oh, I'm a 'Ma'am' now," she said. "Sixteen and I'm a 'Ma'am.' Why don't you just call me 'Betty' from now on."
"Betty-san is Sailor Earth," said Sarah's mother.
"I see you're surprised," said Betty. "Well, I can guarantee, not as surprised as I was when I found out."
There was long applause from the television. I could see credits rolling. Betty switched off the television. It was obvious even to me that I should leave, but I asked one more question. "Your father doesn't like my stepmom and her friends. Does he know about you guys?"
"Not everything," Betty said in a smaller voice. "I hope. Not from what I've told him, at least."
Nereid and I left after that. I thought my dad wanted to say something to me, but he didn't. When were outside, Nereid asked if I wanted to meet the Queen's family and the Lords' and I followed her, and she said on the way, "Otousan was the senshi of Earth, but now it is Betty-san."
"My father, Chiba-san," said Nereid. "I am a Princess of Neptune because of Maman, but I am also a Princess of Earth. They thought I might be Senshi of Earth, because I was born first. But it turned out to be Betty-san."
We went into the Queen's suite, the largest (of course) and into the kitchen, which Aunt Makoto had taken over. Philip was there, of course, and he was playing with a kid about his size in rumply red overalls and a ball cap with "SF" in big red embroidered letters. The kid was Princess Dana, just five then. Princess Usami explained brightly, "Dana, she like boy."
"She likes boys?"
Usami laughed her distinctive laugh, like bubbles foaming up from a shaken soda. "She like Firipu! But what I mean, she more like boy than girl. Play boy game, wear boy clothe."
"Really? Then why doesn't she become a boy?" I asked.
Usami was puzzled, and talked to Nereid for a bit in Japanese. Then she said to me, smiling, "We not all Kinmokunai. Half Hrrr," she said, trilling the cluster of R's in a way even Nereid had not quite reproduced. "We like you, boy or girl, all time. Not unless cut!" She made scissors with her fingers. "She means surgery," said Prince Xavier, who hadn't said a word beyond "Hello" until then. He had a thick accent, but he could speak English and understand it perfectly already, a point which Usami expanded on. "Xavier have Eigo better than Kageshirou, almost good as Lord Seiya. When he talk."
Xavier was older than me, but only two years older, and he did talk to me a little when Usami moved off. I asked him how he got an Earth name, once I knew it was "Xavier" and not "Shaveru" which is how Usami and even Nereid pronounced it. "It's from the Portuguese. St. Francis Xavier was from Portugal. He established the Catholics in Japan about four hundred of your years ago."
"So you are a Catholic like your mom?"
"Yes," he said. "Is that important to you?"
"I don't have a problem with it. I just wondered about you being a Catholic when you come from so far away. How far away is your world, anyway?"
"Thousands of light years from your world. From our world, now. I don't think I will ever go back to Kinmoku. This is my home now."
What we talked about mostly was our parents. Xavier was not that different from me in some ways, and one of them was that we really did not know much about our father's lives. I wound up talking to him more about my mother and her problems to Xav, especially when Nereid was occupied elsewhere.
Not, of course, that she didn't hear every single word.
Miyo, one of Lord Taiki's daughters, took an interest in me for awhile, and told me a bit of the war between the Hrrr and the Kinmokunai. It sounded like my Dad's kind of war, not a war fought by a few magic champions (the Hrrr had ways to counter magic) but a long nasty war were thousands fought and thousands died. Usami stopped her from telling me more.
I got straightened out on Shi, who was Miyo's twin. Miyo didn't want to talk about her much. That said much, that she was willing to tell me about a horrible war, but not about her sister.
A little after that, Nereid and I went out into the hall, and ran into a big bug-eyed monster chasing a tiny girl.
I pushed Nereid back and threw myself in front of the monster, as big as a bear, a big bear, and covered with fur like a bear, and with legs a lot like a bear, except that there were more legs. In fact, it was a lot like a bear—except for its head, which was a big bug's head, with two big bug eyes, and a whole bunch of little eyes, too, like a spider's, and its mouth. It's mouth had two sets of pinchers one it, on big and one even bigger, and all sorts of things sticking out of it waving and pointing and doing other things I could not figure the purpose of. Not that I was taking notes! I was scared! But I was in front of it, at least, and it had stopped.
Then, when I took in the fact that it had stopped, and didn't seem to be eating me yet, sank in, and I began to notice the rest of the world besides the big bugbear again. For instance, I heard laughing. The tiny little girl was laughing behind me, and a not-so-little girl I hadn't noticed behind the bugbear was laughing, and Nereid was laughing.
"What is this thing?" I asked with as much dignity as I could muster.
"That is Dr. Huntaromo," said Nereid.
"Doctor! Shots!" said the tiny, tiny girl with the cherry-red hair and deep, deep blue eyes that I had seen before.
"Doctor Huntaromo is Queen Kakyuu's personal physician," said Nereid, "But he does look after all the children, of course."
The tiny girl was Juliette Chiba, Fourth Princess of the Moon, Ikuko's twin. It was pretty obvious to me which one was going to make more trouble for me, I thought then.
On the whole, I was wrong, but that's not part of this story. To continue, after Nereid explained to me who Juliette and Keisha were—Keisha being the girl who had followed the bugbear, she introduced me, and Juliette piped up, "Leon-san?"
"Yes. I'm Leon."
"Boyfriend!" she shouted. "Leon! Boyfriend!" She repeated that over and over while Nereid chased her, and Keisha, and poor Dr. Huntaramo. You see, the reason the bugbear was chasing Juliette was that the gallon-sized menace in a half-pint carton had swiped his voicebox.
Our hotel had both an indoor and an outdoor playground. . The weather was wonderful that Sunday, so all the kids wanted to go outdoors, including me, if you count me as a kid at eight (almost nine.) There was a softball field and a big playground. But some of us were supposed to stay with the toddlers, because they couldn't go outside, or even to the indoor playroom downstairs, because we couldn't let the other guests or the staff see them. I didn't exactly know why, and I wasn't obligated—but Nereid had such a sad look when I started to leave that I stayed.
Soon after that I began to learn why the toddlers couldn't be let out. A kitten hopped up into my lap, settled down, and began "mixing dough"—that is, making my lap more comfortable by kneading it with her paws—and claws. I picked it off me, and then the kitten turned into a little girl—a little catgirl, with big cat ears, one white, one black. She giggled, squirmed out of my grasp, and ran away, up a wall.
"Stay away from the windows!" ordered an older girl. Nereid introduced her: Adrienne, her sort-of stepsister. Adrienne was thirteen then I think. I'm still just awful with birthdays, I'm afraid. Three others had picked short strings with Nereid or had traded their shifts with those that had. Maia, Al's most beautiful sister, was one; she seemed to be doing fine, amusing them with origami and cartoons she drew on a big pad. The other two were girls more uncertain about using their English than Besu and her sisters, but better at it when they did speak. Their mother was there, too: Kooan, a sister of Juzo's mom. Aki and Sumi had sweet, high voices like Japanese girls are supposed to have, but Aunt Kooan's voice veered randomly between baritone and soprano and mostly seemed to come out of her nose. But it was a kind of voice that was pretty good for giving orders, and she barked them out in English, Japanese, and even French.
Besides two or three security types, which kept changing, the other adult in the room when we began our shift was the catgirl's mom, Mrs. Neko or "Auntie Luna" as Nereid called her (Kooan was another Ms. Ayakashi.) Both of them were aliens, but not from Kinmoku. Luna was from the "Old Moon Kingdom," but her people had come from a planet called Mau before that. Kooan explained in a matter-of-fact way that she was from Nemesis, which had been—would be?—settled by exiles from Earth in the future.
"So you can travel in time?" I asked.
"No, not by ourselves," she said. "We had a timeship, but Lord Rubius destroyed it trying to trap the senshi. There was at least one other timeship, but we don't know what happened to it after Moon-sama and the First Moon destroyed Nemesis."
"They destroyed it?" I asked, and then, "You mean, by themselves?"
"Hai," said Kooan. "It was the only way. A demon from another dimension had taken over our whole world. It was feeding off our war with Earth. If Moon-sama had not destroyed it when she did, it would have killed all my people anyway, and everyone on Earth, too." She sighed. "Of course, Moon-sama won't send our ancestors away now, so I don't really understand how we could be here at all, since we come from a future that will never happen. It must be the magic of the Moon family. I hope it lasts," she said.
I wanted to know more, but Mrs. Neko spoke with Kooan, and then said to me, "You don't need to know all the unpleasant things."
"Don't you trust me?" I challenged.
"You are worthy of trust, Leon-san," said Aunt Luna firmly, "But is it not easier for you to keep a secret you do not know?"
That was all I was to learn of the wars for awhile, definitely for as long as Luna Neko was around. But Aunt Naru did go on to tell something of her own time growing up. Her mom was a jeweler; she had had her own store. Her father was some rich man she had never met; her mother had never told her who he was. According to Mrs. Umino, children without fathers were not accepted by many people in Japan. Usagi--Sarah's mom--had been her first real friend, and she had insisted her other friends accept Aunt Naru.
She told some funny stories about her husband and Sarah's mom and herself. Her husband had had a crush on Usagi until something had made him notice Aunt Naru, the one he would finally marry. At eight (almost nine) I wasn't ready to get into the girl-boy thing myself, but I knew it was important, and I was curious.
Eventually I remembered to remember two things about Mrs. Umino, "Auntie Naru," and I worked up to asking about one of them. "Are you rich? My mom's boyfriend was pretty interested in you, too. He doesn't pay much attention to poor people."
"Yes. My Gurio helped build a good business, and now I control his share." She bowed a little. "You have a head for business, perhaps, like Ryo-san?"
"Auntie Makoto's husband," prompted Nereid.
"Oh," I said, not really remembering exactly what he had done. "I don't think so. My stepmom says you taught her some magic. Are you a magic lady like the others?"
"Not quite the same," said Aunt Naru. "I am not bishoujo senshi myself. I have no other form. But I can learn spells. And I teach some of what I know to some of my friends."
Mrs. Neko may have frowned a tiny bit. Aunt Naru seemed to have said more than Aunt Luna would have liked.
Then I asked a question which I didn't think was loaded at all. "What was it that made Mr. Umino notice you instead of Sarah's mom? Do you know?"
"Aunt Naru" scooped up one of her kids, the smallest, a girl, a crawler. I wondered why then. The sprat seemed perfectly happy where she was, and even complained when her mother picked her up. Alcyone's mom sat down again and fooled with her baby, a girl with a good head of read hair that wasn't like hers or like any other of the Umino's. Her eyes were different, too: cobalt blue. Al's mom took the little girl's hand, put it on my head, and said "Leon-san."
I didn't think she was going to answer my question, but she did. "I fell in love with someone else. He was a very bad man for a middle school girl like I was. He was older, a man. And he wasn't even from Earth." Then came a sharp exchange between Naru and Aunt Luna. I began to see where Al got her occasionally hot temper. Her mom had been very mellow until then, but she was something else when she was pushed to her limits. Whatever was said, Naru won the argument, and continued: "He was a General of the Dark Kingdom, disguising himself as a wealthy playboy. He used me to help fight Sailor Moon. I protected him. I even stole from my mother for him. But I was very lucky. This man, this evil man, fell in love with me. He protected me. He died because he did." After a snuffle, she continued: "Gurio, the man I married, he saw how sad I was after. He was kind, and then loving. And when the magic of Sailor Moon's ginzuishou undid the time of the war with the Dark Kingdom, he remembered that he loved me. It is a very special man that remembers love when the whole world changes. To have one such man, I am very lucky. To have two, I am the luckiest woman who has ever lived."