They arrived where they were going: the kitchen, where they all ate ice cream. In between bites, Usagi told Ginger every horrible thing Mamoru had done to her, and everything he should have done but didn't, or didn't until far too late. Along the way she mentioned some of his powers, their adventures, and even their past lives. She finished up by saying, "I do not remember much of my past life, but I am sure he was as mean to me then." Minako had said little, but she hadn't contradicted anything Usagi had said.
By the time Usagi finished, she had a larger audience. Naru and the little man, Dr. Alvarson, had completed whatever arcane business they had. Makoto had also drifted down, bringing a child, in fact the oldest Ginger had noticed in the house, or at least the biggest. Makoto had managed to get a small portion of ice cream for the girl before Usagi finished the last of it. By the way the child acted now, Ginger saw she was probably Makoto's.
Naru remarked, "Now we will have to get more."
"I'll pick some up later," said Usagi, rising. "I'm going out for awhile."
Makoto rose. "You should not go out. You are upset. And you should not go out alone, especially now." She put firm hands on Usagi's shoulders.
"You cannot come. You cannot fly yet. I will be fine. I would rather be alone for a little while, anyway. No one thinks it odd when Haruka goes off by herself." Usagi removed Makoto's hands.
Makoto said stubbornly, "That is Haruka's way, not yours."
Minako interjected, "I will go with you."
"No, stay here," said Usagi.
Minako insisted. "I will go with you. It is my place, and I can fly just as well as you."
"The Princess of Jupiter is right, Sailor Moon," said the little man. "You are upset. You would do better to stay home and rest. Or perhaps you could speak with the young lady you frightened so much this morning? You have set her upon the Prince as you set Venus on him. Don't you think you should explain why?"
Usagi said, "I will explain later . . . tell her what you think is best, if you are really that concerned. I have to go. Come, Minako, if you are coming."
Usagi went out the door; Minako followed. Ginger watched them transform and fly away.
The little man sighed, shaking his head. There wasn't anything comical about him now. He turned to Ginger and said nothing for a moment. Then he turned away and spoke very gently: "ZoŽ, you should not hear what we must speak of now. Princess, would you take her back to bed?"
"I will take you, ZoŽ," said Naru. "Would that be all right?"
"Yes, Auntie," said the child.
After Naru took the child away, Ginger asked, "ZoŽ is yours?"
Makoto said, "Now she is. Her real mother was Kimberly."
"Kimberly?" Kimberly was the name of Usagi's younger child, the one Mamoru had fathered.
Makoto said, "Kimberly was Chibi-Usa's friend. Usagi named her second daughter for her. We found ZoŽ when we went to save Alison. ZoŽ was with people who were bad to her. I took her away. Please don't talk of this. If someone were to look closely, I might lose her. In fact, don't speak of the children here to anyone you don't completely trust."
"Why?" asked Ginger.
Some of the mischief reappeared in the little man. "Well, perhaps they would be curious why Naru had three children last year and five this year. Haven't you noticed that Ishtar and Kimberly are a little big for one-year-olds?"
"They are really more than five, now," said Makoto. "We were in ZoŽ's world for four years. Actually, a little more."
"And there hangs many a tale, Ms. Han. And . . ." He turned around suddenly. "Ms. Gonsoles. If you want to hear the bloody, bloody truth, join us. We will speak of Sailor Moon."
Makoto had readied coffee for everyone by then. Taking a sip, Ginger said, "Sailor Moon? That was a cartoon from a few years ago."
Makoto said, "Yes, but here, it is real. Not in ZoŽ's world or others, but here, it is. Or it was."
"Was?" asked Ginger.
The little man poured a large amount of creamer into his cup, took a big gulp, and then settled back for some extended speaking. "The Moon Kingdom was in the past, but not the past of this world. And Crystal Tokyo wasn't the only future for this world. You are both familiar with the cartoon? Or perhaps the manga?"
"I am," said Ginger. "I was really into it when I was living in Japan. You mean it's all true?"
Alvarson said, "Not all of it, but the basic outline is. Most particularly, it is true that Sailor Moon's future daughter came back in time. And that she was pursued by enemies. Crystal Tokyo was never a very stable timeline; that weakened it a lot. I don't think I am being immodest when I say that I know more about the dynamics of timelines than anyone I know of. I am not certain what caused that timeline to finally destabilize. But it is gone now."
"What do you mean?" asked Ginger.
"'The future is not what we thought it was,'" said Mamoru. "That is what Usako said in the note. The one that told me she was not going to marry me." He came in and poured himself a cup. "I thought she would change her mind when she found out Chibi-Usa was not mine, but . . ."
"Let me tell this part," said Makoto. "Usagi came here to America six years ago, with her family. She didn't do well in school--in fact, she was failing. She went to visit Mamoru at Stanford. But when she got there--she wasn't at Mamoru's Stanford. She had gone to ZoŽ's world. They thought she was insane. In ZoŽ's world, there aren't any Japanese at all with hair and eyes like hers--or mine--and there was no record of her existing."
"When they let her out of the asylum, they put her in foster homes. They made her change her name. She started to believe she was crazy, that she really was an American girl who thought she was a cartoon character."
"But then she found Chibi-Usa. She'd come there too, and they'd done about the same thing to her."
"Chibi-Usa?" asked Ginger. "You mean, Sarah? I've heard you all call her that. And 'little moon.'"
"Yes. And no," said the little man.
Makoto continued. "Usagi got closer to Chibi-Usa than ever. And then . . . Chibi-Usa died. She died fighting a horrible monster. It also killed ZoŽ's real mother. Chibi-Usa gave her life trying to save her."
"That thing killed my granddaughter as well," said the little man. "Fortunately, it is very hard to keep Argent dead. With Sailor Moon's help and some others, it was destroyed. Or at least, dispersed so much it will take a long time for it to find a new host."
"Host?" asked Carmen.
Alvarson said, "My granddaughter and her colleagues in her coven have been looking into the nature of that particular beast. It needs to find a suitable host to manifest. Unfortunately, its favorite type is rather common among the worlds. It likes serial killers. Loners with a desire for unnatural acts, and unnatural powers. It seems to take years to complete its possession, and many things could spoil its prospective host."
"It might be a species, not just a monster. That is why Sailor Moon spends so much time hunting now. And why she kills so much now. She doesn't want to miss one of these things." The little man sighed. "But in truth, what she does isn't likely to catch one early, no matter how much it does for the victims of ordinary monsters. Like the one who took your sister, Ms. Gonsoles."
Carmen said, "Ginny, when I said they brought her back, I really meant they brought her back. Aly was dead."
"It does not always work," said Makoto. "I saw many times when it did not."
"No, it does not always work. That's the reason my Grey Company does not offer it as part of our normal services," explained the little man. "But let us return to the reason you, Ms. Han, and you, Mr. Chiba, are facing such disagreeable choices. Sailor Moon will not marry you, Mr. Chiba, because she is not sure that doing that won't bring back Crystal Tokyo. If that happens, she thinks Chibi Moon will stop maturing as she did in her last incarnation, and will eventually come back to Argent's world to be killed. Sailor Moon is particularly worried about that now because Chibi Moon has not grown much in the past few years."
"But she is not the same," said Mamoru. "Sarah is not my biological child. And Kimberly has no resemblance--"
The little man shook his head. "Sarah and Chibi-Usa have the same soul. Argent is never wrong about these things. And I have used my special talent with Time to divine her nature. Chibi-Usa was never your child, at least of your loins. Sailor Moon sensed that the moment she first held the child in her arms."
Makoto said, "Mamoru, I know that Ami told you what Usagi told us, but it was worse than Usagi is willing to say. Nancy, who is Chibi-Usa's aunt, saw her die, and felt her pain. Usagi must have felt more of it. You have always loved Chibi-Usa as if she were your own. If you had felt Chibi-Usa's pain, I think you would feel as Usagi feels. You would do anything to keep it from happening again."
"Yes . . . but what to do?" asked Mamoru. "What not to do? Dr. Alvarson, you are the Founder of the Grey Company. You have lived for thousands of years, visited countless worlds, traveled in time, seen things we can't imagine. You said you would give us an answer, if you could. Do you have an answer?"
The ageless little man said, "No. Not a simple one. Not a complete one."
"What can you tell us?" asked Mamoru.
The little man got up and refilled his cup before speaking again. "Divination is not my special strength. My daughter was a natural master at it . . . " He seemed to lose focus for a moment. "But I am not. Sailor Mars has more natural talent for it than me, though she will need much more experience to be reliable. But I have a gift for the magics of Time, and it does give me some insights."
"The first is not going to be comforting. There is a strong bias in Chibi-Usa's lifeline to repeat the cycle, even if her lifepath is quite different up to the loop. I think she has repeated it before."
"The second is that it is possible to create Crystal Tokyo again, or something resembling it. But my advice is to avoid it. Crystal Tokyo depended on the separation that created the Negamoon, and perhaps even the Tau system. If you create a different version, you will almost certainly create a different evil to oppose it--perhaps a worse one. Great magics like the one which created Crystal Tokyo or the Moon Kingdom nearly always lead to disaster--take it from one who is responsible for some of the worst!"
Ginger managed to get some words in. "Would Mamoru's marrying Usagi make that more likely? I mean, what do your powers tell you?"
Alvarson said, "Nothing about that. But logic tells me that if Mamoru marries Usagi or any of the other senshi, it would seem to make it more likely." The little wizard added, "My powers and arts don't give me any special insight into the union between yourself and Mamoru, Ms. Han."
Makoto, and Naru, who had quietly returned, stayed up with Dr. Alvarson. Carmen and Ginger followed Mamoru back to his room, where he returned to his bed after briefly rousing the children--Sarah, who was Chibi-Usa; her half-sister Kimberly, and Mamoru's child by Minako, Ishtar. Chibi-Usa did not fail to give Ginger another one of her hostile looks, but it softened into sadness before she turned over and wriggled close to Mamoru.
It was a warm night; they left a window open. Still awake as the sky began glowing, Ginger and Carmen heard a flurry of shots--and then some large explosions. Five minutes later, they caught Sailor Venus flying in--carrying Sailor Moon.
Ginger was aghast when she got her first close look at Sailor Moon. She was oozing blood, barely aware.
"What happened?" shouted Mamoru.
Venus answered, "She saw a gang start to shoot up a place, and she dived in--but there was another bunch of them in two more cars."
Ginger was more in her element here. "She took four bullets here . . . what did this?"
"One of them had a very big gun," answered Venus. "Is she going to be all right?"
Carmen said, "She needs to get to a hospital! Hotaru, no, get--"
"I can help," said the girl.
Hotaru laid hands on Usagi--she had transformed back, and Ginger thought in a part of her mind that it must be from losing consciousness. Ginger watched as bullets wormed out and wounds closed. But not all of them. "That helped, but . . . this one. I think the bullet is still in. I think . . ." Ginger had been feeling around the wound, but now she closed her eyes and said no more. The bullet had to be in Usagi's spine.
The little man came up, and put a hand on her shoulder. "Feel just the bullet in your hand. Now, draw it out."
Ginger Han could feel something in her hand. She opened her eyes and saw her wrist buried in Usagi's back. She withdrew it gently, slowly, and saw as the hand emerged that it was not inside the wound, really--it was as if Usagi's back was a pool of calm water. Once her hand was out, she opened her grip, and saw she was holding a massive bullet, as large as her thumb. She let it drop from her hand.
Ginger looked at the wound. Blood and fluid began to well from it. Hotaru laid her hands on and the flow slowed to a trickle. But then Hotaru said "That is all I can do."
Ginger re-examined the wound as best she could. "So far so good. If no one has called 911 yet, do it now. She's lost a lot of blood and moving her without immobilizing her back is a bad idea."
Suddenly Ginger found herself staring into a pair of familiar light-brown eyes: Chibi-Usa's. A crescent glowed on her brow as she asked, "Is okasan going to die?"
"She should be all right when we get her to a hospital--"
Ginger Han realized she was now in a hospital. Stanford Hospital. Specifically, she was kneeling between Chibi-Usa and Usagi on the floor in front of the Admissions desk.
THE ADMISSIONS CLERK slumped into her chair with rolled-back eyes. Ginger grabbed the phone and sent out a page, then got the Emergency Room. From then on, what occupied her mind was keeping Usagi and Chibi-Usa safe until Usagi was carried off to surgery.
Then Ginger Han got to talk to a couple of cops. But she was surprised--the cops seemed to suggest what had happened, and she simply agreed. They went away with a plausible story: Usagi had been visiting her; she went outside to check for the paper; she was shot. Of course, it was complete b.s. Then Ginger remembered something Carmen had told her the night before . . . she asked Chibi-Usa, "Sarah, did you do something to the policemen?"
Chibi-Usa answered, "I think so. I just wanted them to go away quickly. I could hear a little of what they were thinking. I'm not as good as I was before."
"Before?" asked Ginger.
The girl said, "Before, when I was with okasan at the foster home and then Aunt Nancy, when she was young."
"You remember that?" This was something that had happened in her former life.
Chibi-Usa said, "Some of it. Some of it I heard from Auntie Nancy. I don't tell okasan about it any more. She worries all the time about me. When I told her before about remembering things, she worried more. Is she going to get better?"
"Yes, I think so. She might not be able to walk . . . I don't know." Ginger knelt down and hugged the child.
"Okasan was right," said Sarah, drifting into English again. "You have a good heart. Thank you for helping her."
Ginger Han's troubles were far from over. More policemen came to see here in the next weeks, and she was very afraid for awhile that she would be dropped from the residency program for exercising such poor judgment by bringing her friend to the hospital herself rather than getting emergency help. Perhaps the unqualified support Ms. Han received from the Tsukino family persuaded the hospital to let her off with a reprimand. It might have been something else. Ginger now began to notice a that a large portion of the unobtrusive brass plates scattered around the hospital credited donations from "Dr. D. A. Alvarson" or "The Grey Company."
In the meantime, Ginger Han, and of course Carmen Gonsoles and Mamoru Chiba, had to cope with the relentless cycle of training and work that would transform them either into certified physicians or burnt-out failures. Somehow in the midst of all this Ginger found time and opportunity to share Mamoru's bed for one transcendent night. But after that one night, she was torn in even more ways. She put her head down, metaphorically speaking, and concentrated on getting through another year of her residency.
But there was yet another difficult choice for Ginger Han to make as Christmas approached . . .