For Halloween I dressed up as a devil girl: Pink leotard, pink barbed tail, pink horns, pink high-heels (very high)–and black fishnets. The fishnets were just too good not to use with it, and when else was I going to get away with wearing them?Halloween (and my birthday) was on a Sunday this time. this meant that the kids, or at least the regular neighbors' kids, would be going home before midnight, before any of the really special stuff about Halloween at Casa Alvarson starts happening. With a working Monday looming, it shouldn't be too hard to get the older mundanes out by the real witching hour, right? All right, I was wearing the fishnets because of Evan. A young woman has to make her own fun.
Evan had stopped coming over, and I sort of didn't notice until after I made sure Evan would be coming, so I called his home. He wasn't home, but his father was. I had never spoken to either of his parents, although Evan once pointed them out at one of our games. Unfortunately that was one I had to leave early because of our "special friend."
Anyway, I explained who I was (the unclassified stuff!) and asked him, "Will you come to our Halloween party? It's my birthday, too, and it's been a big thing with my mother and her friends even before I was born."
His father spoke with an accent, but not very thick. "You would be the Sarah who lives with the aliens, then?"
"I would be," I came back, maybe a little too quickly and too "cleverly." So I also said, "Uh, he's been over before. Not lately, though."
"Yes, I know."
"Well, it's been too long and we really like him, so can he come? All of you, if you want, we have lots and lots of moms and dads, too." Translation: Kids will not get in too much trouble. "So, is it all right with you? Can he come?"
"With me it is 'all right' as you Americans are always saying," said Mr. Petronius, "But with Mrs. Petronius it may not be so 'all right' I am afraid."
This was news to me. Dexter didn't talk much about his parents and I don't remember hearing anything about his mom since . . . well, a long time before this call. "Can I ask why not?"
"Emily"—he said it like "Aim-ee-lee"—" has changed churches again. She is now with the New Gospel people. I know you have had your troubles with them."
"Gee, you think so?" For awhile we were practically under seige with picketers outside our house, our schools, and NGCers chasing us down even in restrooms. But told him I thought it was very important to some of my little friends and even sisters that he come.
"What about you? What do you think of my son?"
"I think he's a very nice boy, and if you mean about his having a crush on me—puppy love, you know—I think that's very sweet, too, even if he's way too young for me. But I like him and I really want him to come to this thing. Okay?"
"I guess that is 'okeh,' as you Americans say. I will do my best. I know this will be important to Dexter."
Halloween came on a Sunday that year. We only went out hunting one night in the week before, and that was for an Amber Alert. Not our guy, the killer our FBI guys were calling "Merlin," but a more ordinary perp. "Perp" for perpetrator; I've been around enough cops now to start picking up their jargon. Anyway, we got the girl back alive, even if the perp could only answer to Naru's arts when Kimi gave him a rose through his left eye. That was six whole nights past. While I was anticipating more serious stuff after our sun reached its nadir, the afternoon and evening promised fun. And I was dressed for it, in my devil girl costume with black fishnets and the highest heels I could get. Mom didn't say a thing. Auntie Luna started to, but I brought up something that made her blush purple. Prim and proper is a role Neko Luna plays to prefection, but she's a Mauvian under it all, a cat person with all the passions of the feline races.
All right, I stole that phrase from something I read, but it fits.
Anyway, people started to arrive at noon or so, and not just from the neighborhood. Before the sun sank below the fog bank rolling in over Marin across the Bay, every senshi I had ever met was there, and more. And there were others, come through easier gates than the one to my father's world, the Grey Lady's world. Other universes, really.
I was talking to one of these extradimensional visitors when Evan's mom and his sisters arrived. Jennifer piped up, "Hey, you look just like Ryoko!"
"Well, you look just like Ryoko too!" said Ryoko, bending down to pat Jennifer's shoulders. Then she asked Tiffany, "And who are you supposed to be for tonight?"
"I'm Princess Ayeka."
"Oh, but you are much too pretty to be Ayeka-san," said Ryoko. Keisha, in odangos and a little sailor senshi fuku, of course, took Jennifer and Tiffany off to where some real fun was happening, leaving us old people behind. "Isn't Evan coming?" I asked as soon as they couldn't hear.
"He'll be along later," said Evan's mom. "I'm sure he will." And she was; I just read enough to know. She turned slightly to face Ryoko and introduced herself. "I am Gwen Shores, and this is my former husband, John Maxwell."
Oops! I hadn't noticed the man with her at all, and I hadn't asked Ryoko if she had an alias she wanted to use!
Ryoko bowed to each of them, and politely, and said: "I am Ryoko. My real name, also. Ryoko Wako. My family likes to think we have a famous pirate from olden times. 'Wako' is a word for 'pirate.'"
"Yes, but it can mean other things," I added. Somehow I got through the next few minutes. When Evan's parents moved on, Ryoko said to me, "Is your boyfriend much like his father?"
"I'm not sure," I said. And before she could bring up something else, I asked her: "Why did you come? I would have thought you would have stayed. When else will you have a chance to have Lord Tenchi alone?"
"Alone except for Mihoshi, and Yugi, and—"
"I mean without Princess Ayeka. She's the one that counts."
Ayeka had been mute until then, and she almost said something—but then Ryoko did yet another thing that surprised me. Without much thought she put her arm around Ayeka's waist and drew her to her side. "I asked you not to read my mind, First Princess," said Ryoko. Then they went off, leaving me with Princess Sasami.
"Do you think Ayeka-san has a better costume?" Sasami asked. Ayeka had chosen to dress like one of the ladies from the Three Musketeers, the noble ones, not the, uhhh, other ladies which don't make it from the book to the movies very much.
"Oh, I don't know. Your's shows almost as much of your legs as mine."
I really wish I could hate Sasami sometimes. She was Magic Girl Sammi tonight, of course. I went back too watching Ryoko and Ayeka, and she said to me after a moment or two, "What is wrong?" in Japanese. "How long have they been . . . like that?"
"Almost from the first, I think. It does not seem to help much when Lord Tenchi is with them. Princess, why should this bother you so?"
I was considering telling her why when Zoë brought Dexter up with his parents. Dex is such a shrimp compared even to my vertically-challenged self that I was very suprised to find that both of his parents were tall, taller than Zoë then, both of them, and his mother was a bit taller than his father. Dexter, already trailed by Alcyone and a half-dozen other girls, sputtered through the introductions. For this visit, Princess Sasami was modestly styled "Sasako Juraihime" and she explained "This is like Magical Girl Sammi costume. I make little too short, maybe."
Mrs. Petronius did not say anything about Sasami's costume, but she said to me, "Your costume looks more appropriate for a caberet than a children's holiday."
I had heard her trying to save Zoë's soul just before she came up to us, and I could not resist saying: "It goes well with the 'I Love Satan' posters up in my room."
"There are people who call this holiday 'Devil's Night," she saidëseriously.
"A pagan holiday of Europe, not of Japan," said Zoë, who rescued the rest of us by restarting her religious debate with Emily Pretorius so we could get away.
Only Sasami had already slipped off, I discovered. I caught her just as she disappeared going upstairs with Prince Kag. "Innocent little me" in a costume that showed her underpants about every two seconds.
On further reflection, maybe I could learn to hate Sasami someday.
Little kids can drive you nuts, but just when you are about to get your tubes tied, they'll do something to melt your heart. In Rhea's case it was using those big eyes of hers on me as she pleaded for me not to get her mom "'Cause kaasan make me stay bed whole night!"
Maia was mopping up the last of her puke on the floor at this point while I was getting the last of her puke off her, at least all that was going to come off without a run of her Wonder Woman leotard through the wash. Technically I was on mopup duty then, but Rhea is my cousin, so I was doing the hugging and the blotting and the sympathizing. Maia had sort of materialized to finish my job quickly. She hadn't been following me that I had noticed, but . . .
I left Rhea with Maia and took the costume downstairs to the laundry room, taking stairs and taking my time. Evan followed behind me, close enough so I had no trouble at all reading him, far enough back so he thought I didn't know he was watching my butt. When we reached the laundry room and I was rinsing out Rhea's leotard and applying one of the ecosafe stain removers Mom insists on (Olivia gave up trying to hide the ones that really work) Evan said to me: "You have a lot of friends."
"Oh, everyone wants to be okasan's friend now, since Kakyuu-sama's people came. Open the washer for me, will you?" He did, and as I loaded in the leotard and some stuff from the bins to make a load, I finished my thought. "Everyone wants to be our friends, except the people who think we are helping the aliens take over the world, or the Devil, or both."
"Yeah, there's that. But I mean you know a lot of people. I've been watching you."
"You mean besides my butt?"
He snorted. "Yeah, besides your butt."
"So what do you think of me now? Trust me with kids?" I put in some all-organic soap, closed the door, and started the machine. Washing off my hands at the sink, my back to Evan again, I said, "Why aren't you making a move on me? We're alone in here."
"Except for the camera."
I dried my hands, went too the washer, and hopped up on it, and kicked up my legs, and waved at the obvious security camera. "Evan, there are cameras in every room, probably. C'mon, who do you think I wore this for, Dex's mom? Thes shoes are killing my poor footsies." I kicked off my archbreakers. Evan gave me a kiss, and started giving me a fabulous foot rub. Ah, if that rub could have gone on. Who knows?
Princess Sasami came in and asked me in Japanese, "Have you seen Prince Kageshirou?"
I replied in Nihongo, "The last time I saw him he was with you. Sasami-hime, I was doing something here.
"Your affairs are your own of course, First Princess. I think would be more seemly for you to use your own room, but if you wish to tryst with your lover in this place, I will guard the door."
I knew she had come to see if I was here with Kageshirou. But I said nothing of that. I decided the laundry room had lost its charms and switched to English. "Let's go up to my room," I said, "and talk. Sasako can come too.
It took awhile to get back to my room. The first big problem was a fight involving my two "apprentice" Asatara. Mimete kissed a boy, and he hit her, and then Lily started yelling "You don't beat up girls!" while beating him up. Well, not really, but she kept jabbing and poking and slapping and he could not land a punch since Lily can dematerialize like a ghost. The boy was too mad to figure out what was going on, and also trying to fight off Mimi who was trying to hold off Lily. But what made it a real crisis was when the boy's mother tryed to grab Lily from behind, and her arms went right through her. While she was boggled I did some quick mental re-plastering, and ordered my Asatara to knock it off.
By the time I was finished, I had lost both Evan and Sasami-hime. Sassy had found Prince Kag again, in the middle of my real Asatara, who collectively and individually are real competition for her act. Well, I guess Besu was just there with her sisters, since she is married . . .
Evan was with his family again. He had the look of a trapped animal, next to his father. But we were rescued by Auntie Naru and her mother. Naru's mom had run a business for most of her life, and Evan's mom became so absorbed talking with her Evan and I were able to slip off. But not so absorbed that I didn't get an uncomfortable look at me as I went upstairs with her son. Not as bad a look as Evan had on his face, though, looking down at his father.
My room was uninhabited: No little sisters, no houseguest (Sasami-Hime, who snores even worse than me mom.) Evan locked the door behind me, took me in his arms, and gave me a wonderful kiss. My hormones were almost back on my saddle when that kiss ended. But I had second and third thoughts, and maybe fourths and fifths. With evan holding me so close, I did not have to read his mind to know what he wanted.
But he felt me tensing up, and he loosened his embrace. "Are you scared?"
"Hai. Yes, a little."
"No. Not you, never you." I gave him a sort of friendly peck. "I'm not sure."
"You mean about sleeping with me?"
I laughed. "I don't think either of us is going to be doing much sleeping tonight." I gave him another friendly peck, maybe more than friendly. "I mean, with me."
Evan was getting into deeper waters now. But there was a knock at the door.
It was Maia, with Chibi Saturn. Rhea wanted to go back downstairs before all the little kids went home, so she had put on her "other costume"—that is, she had transformed. Maia wasn't going to let her go without Aunt Sarah's permission. With Chibi Saturn putting her big sad eyes on me, of course I caved, only grumbling in Japanese, "Do not forget yourself and start flying."
Then I was alone with Evan again, after exchanging a long, significant look with Maia.
"I'm not really the one for you, am I?" said Evan, warmly but so sadly. Evan was very sure that he had come to a point of painful realization. He had, but he didn't have it right. But to convince Evan he had the wrong idea, what would I have to do?
I locked the door, and I did my best to explain how my heart was being tugged this way and that way and the other way . . . except for Dex's real claim on me, and the Big Secret. I even got on the fringes of that when I said that I thought Kakyuu was trying to arrange a match between me and Kag if she could. Meanwhile, of course, I was reading Evan.
I guess I must have taken maybe an hour to get it all out, maybe more. I knew I had really gotten to Evan. But still . . . I needed to do something else. Maybe it was time for complete honesty. Maybe . . .
I got out my special picture, and showed it to Evan. "Remember this?"
"Yeah. You got real mad at me over it."
I pointed out the man in the middle. "That's my father, Evan."
He took the picture, and examined it carefully. "Damn. It's good work. Where did you get this?"
"Aunt Nancy took the picture. She's my real aunt, my real dad's sister."
I was about to tell him the whole thing, but he said, "This is about my dad, isn't it?"
For me it wasn't, but his father was now all over his mind. "I guess it could be. My father died before I was born. He never got to be much older than you. He's not around to disappoint me."
"No, he isn't."
"Evan, you are way better than your father, but that doesn't mean he isn't a decent guy. I can tell he's really trying."
"Yeah, he's trying now. He's tried before. That doesn't change my mind about him. He should—"
"Crawl off and die quiet somewhere?" Evan's eyes flashed at that one. I said in a gentler way, "Evan, you talk a lot about how if you are African-American, especially a man, you just aren't going to get the same chances as a white guy or even an Asian guy. But doesn't your father count?"
I had shaken Evan, but not enough to make him give way. "We can't afford him, Sarah. You know the math. And he can get mean. Really mean, Sarah. Tiff and Jen don't remember, but I do. Would you trust him with the girls alone?"
"Yes," I said without hesitation.
"Why? Why are you so sure?"
Because Mom and I had read his mind, and there wasn't the slightest chance he would be living with Tiff and Jen if Mom didn't think they were safe with him. But that would be too much for him to handle.
"Well?" challenged Evan.
"Because my mom and your mom think he's worth the trouble."
But he wasn't satisfied with that. "You don't know. You don't know." And he left my room, closing the door behind himself, and I knew I shouldn't follow him.
I spent a long time staring at the door he'd walked out, and then I heard knocking, not on my door. I poked my head out, and saw that Dexter's mom was knocking on the door of my mother's room. She turned to me and said, "Do you know where your mother is?"
"Who told you this was her room?" I asked.
"I want to speak with your mother, Miss Uer. That young man I saw with you, is he your lover?"
"Not tonight he wasn't," I cracked. "My mom will see you, but she has some people coming tonight."
"I want to get this settled tonight. I won't leave until I speak to her, alone, unless you want to throw me out bodily."
That idea had appeal, but I shrugged and said, "You could have a long wait." I looked around. It was past the nadir, the time to open the gate to my father's world and perhaps others. There weren't too many people down below in the front room. In fact, it struck me that everyone down below except a very few young ones like Rhea the nightowl was a normal.
"Let me check," I said. I'd put down my phone sometime when I was wrestling with Evan. I ducked into my room, hit the "Mom" key—and didn't get an answer for many rings. While I was waiting for an answer, Mrs. Petronius said, "I am curious about something. Why does the little girl you adopted call your mother 'Mommy Moon?'"
"Oh, Mom sometimes wears her hair up in odangos like Sailor Moon is supposed to. Sometimes I do, too, and Kimi. Grandma Tsukino did when she was a girl. Kind of a family tradition."
"'Sailor Moon' isn't exactly suitable for very small children."
"Oh, our version is safe enough." When I finally did get an answer, it was Luna. "What's wrong? Where's okasan? Luna said words I did not want to hear. "I will come to the situation room," I said in Japanese, and pushed past Mrs. Petronius waiting in my doorway. I made for the elevator, but I met Princess Usami and Prince Kageshirou coming out of it. He wanted to come along, but Mom had said no. "You must talk to her, First Princess."
"It's not your kind of war, Kageshirou-san."
"What do you know of my war? Of any war?"
"You've heard of the White House, haven't you?"
"I have fought worse actions. Many of them. This is just one or two men."
I had already gotten inside the elevator, and I was just waiting for the doors to close before I jumped down to the situation room. To make my point stronger, I transformed. "We might not be fighting a man. Remember Iturbe. And we have wars here. I finished one of the last ones." And I sent the experience, which I had not shared with him.
Along a road pocked with craters small, medium and large, littered with burned-out, wrecked or simply abandoned vehicles, a column of sorts moves. No one smells good, not even me or my Asatara, hidden under smelly khadors taken off women we were too late to help. There are several columns like this, and Sailor Venus has put senshi among the most vulnerable.
We hear them: Thupp, thupp, thupp multiplied many times; helicopters, a lot of them. The bright moonlight which helps the refugees and the retreating insurgents find their way also helps the light amplifiers the pilots and gunners are using. It might as well be noon to them.
A flight of F-131s could knock them out of the skies like so many clay pigeons, but there are none coming. Tonight the United States is staying out of the latest Iraqi civil war. So are we; we aren't here to fight. We just want the helicopters to leave the refugees alone. So we throw off our disguises, rise up in the air, and fire warning shots.
But the Iraqi crews are brave and have their orders. They launch their rockets, dozens of them from each helicopter. The insurgents take potshots which manage to hit a few of the refugees but none of the helicopters. Meanwhile Besu and Parapara, Sere and Juno, and I, try to knock down the rockets. We don't get them all, and they begin to burst, little pop sounds. And people begin to die, because the warheads are filled with nerve gas. Not many of the insurgents; they mostly have masks and atropine injectors. But lots of refugees are dropping.
The last of the rockets are either destroyed or have found targets. The helicopters are closing, beginning to strafe. Now they do kill a few of the insurgents with bullets and cannon shells, and, of course, a lot more of the refugees. They can't hit us, though; they can't even see us, really, not behind all the bolts we are throwing at them. The battle doesn't last very much longer, but long enough for me to hear the last thoughts and feel the last feelings of the men who were picked to be our enemies: hopes, yearnings, fears and of course searing pains.
"Your war can be no worse. But our kind can be." Then I sent what I remembered of Iturbe. All this took only seconds, and I barely noticed that Princess Usami was quaking in fear when I jumped to the situation room. I didn't look behind my back at all.
It was a dream, this time.
The thing that thought it was Roberto Iturbe grappled me with its numberless tentacles, tipped with blades, claws, stingers, jaws and things more disgusting. I could not see much; Kimberly was climbing up me, like a drowning person trying to climb up the person trying to save her. But we weren't in water, or over water; we were more than a thousand meters above the ground!
Somehow I kept fighting it off as I flew down, blinded by Kimberly's bulk. The tentacles kept darting in, biting, slashing, puncturing, trying to grab . . . playing with me and Kimberly. But I felt firm ground beneath my feet at last, and I could set her down, set her free, yell at her to run while I fought it.
But I couldn't fight it. I couldn't see it. It had taken my eyes. And soon it took Kimberly back, and I couldn't even stand any more. Iturbe the monster butchered Kimberly, again. The Grey Lady had brought her back to life, only to be a victim of this undying perversion that thought it was still a man . . .
I woke up, ready to fight, wings spread, all the eye-jewels in the five skulls of my regalia glowing, no doubt. I smelled bad coffee and pee. A cop, a woman, had wet herself with both.
I invested a few moments in becoming sane again, and a few more remembering were I was and how I'd gotten there. Where was a cot in a Boston police station. When was about two hours since I remember looking at the clock . . . or fourteen?
I transformed back into mundane form. I still had the remains of my Devil Girl costume, heels replaced by borrowed sneakers, and supplemented by a man's shirt I still do not remember the exact source of. I told the frightened cop, "I guess I look pretty scary first thing in the morning. It's morning, isn't it?" She nodded. "I guess you came on duty after I went to sleep. Do you have BT clearance?"
"Never mind." Either she would get it, or get a big dose of the powder so she would forget everything . . . for awhile, at least.
It was still morning in Boston when I left, but afternoon in California. Our latest effort to find and stop the serial killer the FBI called "Merlin" had ended at the end of a set of muddy tire tracks. Even Sailor Earth could not find him or his latest victim, because he wasn't on Earth. Not our earth, anyway. I don't pretend to understand Washuu's jargon ("semiproton decay" was a phrase that was part of it) but what it meant that our killer was a universe hopper. "I haven't seen readings like these anywhere. He's not from any manifold I can identify, or at least he's operating from someplace I can't get to." She thought she could come up with something that might help us detect him coming through again.
With this cheerful news, and another problem largely of my own making Mom hadn't mentioned until I'd returned home, I quit the situation room and took the elevator up. Maia came with me, and when the door opened at the kitchen and the smell of heavenly coffee came in, Maia skipped ahead and returned before I had made more than a few steps with my cup, filled and creamed just right. I took it from her hands and looked into her emerald eyes, which now had bags underneath, and I wondered where she had found the energy.
I sipped the blessed brew and looked away from Maia's face to another's. The Reverend John Lee Swainson, Fourth Prophet of the New Gospel Church, is a man I never enjoy seeing on television. Seeing him in our kitchen drinking our best coffee was worse, and seeing him now after "Merlin" had escaped us worse still. But even that wasn't all that was wrong with seeing him here.
I was already close enough to read him, which meant he was close enough to read me. That's one of his secrets, the Rev: Like me, like my Mom, like his daughter Betty who is the Sailor of Earth, Johnny Lee Swainson is a telepath. It's a wonderful talent for an evangelist; he knows how he is affecting his audience. Not on television, of course, but he is smart enough to preach to live audiences whenever he can. He's very smart, the Reverend Johnny Lee.
His wife was with him, Valita, a younger woman who'd kept house for him for years. He did not marry her for her looks. She was one reason I decided to be diplomatic. "Betty is still downstairs. She should be up soon," I said to the Reverend and his wife. "How long have you been waiting?"
Valita Swainson said, "I've been here with the Reverend just a little while." She implied that she knew more; she did know that I'd been gone for almost four days.
The Reverend Johnny Lee spoke: "Miz Petronius told me some interestin' things about you."
From the images I saw in his mind, it was worse than I knew from Mom. She'd not only seen me transform, she'd caught some of my sendings to Kag. No wonder she was locked up. "I've heard about her. I'm sorry."
"Well, I don't think you have to worry about her too much," said the Reverend. I saw another set of images. "She'll probably forget all about most of this."
So it was Swainson who had persuaded her to take a drink laced with the powder that would erase her short term memory, at least for awhile. Now he had another hold on us. How truly wonderful. "I hope so."
Scanning Valita, I found she though Emily Pretorius had had hallucinations—but also that she saw me and mine as some kind of danger to her man. Valita was looking into me, too, even if she didn't have telepathy. The Reverend's second wife didn't have a high-school diploma but she had learned most of the important lessons of the streets. She knew the Reverend wasn't quite what he seemed; maybe she even sensed how he had become the Fourth Prophet when he had. But she was for him, all the same. She said to me: "Miz Petronius thinks you put some kind of evil spell on her boy."
"You've seen her? I mean, since?"
"I have," Valita confirmed, silently challenging me to do the same.
"I haven't," I said. "Listen, Dexter is a nice boy and I like him a lot. Who wouldn't? But he's just a boy; I'm sixteen. I haven't been casting any spells on him or anything else except talking and maybe fixing him up with somebody his own age. It's just a crush," I lied. "He's sure not the one I'm going to take to the Homecoming dance or anything."
"Oh, I'm sure," said Valita, very knowingly. "So, you have a boyfriend?"
Valita had aimed that loaded syllable at me, but Maia was still in the kitchen. "Boy" hit her, and she fled. I think Valita apologized, but I'm not sure. I was chasing Maia and whatever Valita Swainson said to me never did quite atch up. I followed Maia into her room . . . and further.