|A Year and Change|
|The Family Neko|
KIMI WAS THE FIRST to notice the strangers at the window of the nursery. One was a tall man with white hair, but not an old man, at least in appearance. He had a little girl with him, a little taller than Kimi, with light lavender hair. He was pointing out the babies, and Kimi heard him say, "That one is Mina-chan's."
"I can't read the name. Can you, otousan?"
Kimi was alone at the moment. Normally she was very reluctant to approach strangers, but a father and daughter seemed safe, and she was very curious about what they had said. She went up to them. "Who are you?" she asked. "Who are you to say 'Mina-chan?'"
The man smiled. "An old friend. And who are you to Mina-chan? Are you her child too?"
"Auntie Minako is my mother's friend."
"I am Mr. Neko, and this is my daughter Diana. And that baby, the one next to Mina-chan's, is my new daughter. My wife wants to name her Celeste . . . and you are?"
"Kimberly Chiba. Everyone calls me Kimi." She went to the window and pointed. "That one, and that one, are my new sisters, Ikuko and Juliette."
"Ikuko?" asked the man.
"Yes. After my grandma. But grandma has just had another baby. That one there," Kimi pointed. "Her name is Yoriko. So now I have an Auntie who is younger than me."
"That's funny!" said the little girl.
"So you are the daughter of Usagi?" asked the man.
"Yes," answered Kimi. Noticing that Ishtar had come to join her, Kimi introduced her.
"You look a lot alike," said the little girl.
"You are twins?" asked the man, sounding more deeply surprised than his daughter.
"Not exactly," explained Ishtar. Noticing that the man was looking at her very closely, and that his feelings were intense, Ishtar asked, "Who are you? Why do you want to know about us?"
The man went down on one knee to speak to Ishtar. "I am Artemis, child . . . And I can see your sigil. You must be Mina-chan's."
At that, Kimi opened her third eye for a moment, and saw the sigils on Artemis and Diana.
Diana exclaimed, "You couldn't do that before."
"Before what?" asked Kimi, closing her Eye before any others might notice.
"Before when you were . . ." Diana turned to her father, and asked, "Should I tell her about the time that was supposed to be?"
"Let me ask . . . Kimi, are you the oldest child of Usagi and Mamoru?"
"Yes, I am," said Kimi.
"You feel all puzzled," said Ishtar, "Don't you?"
"Yes," said Artemis. "I . . . I'm afraid I don't know much of what has gone on here since we left."
Deja came up. "What are you talking about? Kimi-chan, Ishi-chan, you aren't supposed to talk to strangers, anyway."
"It is all right," said Kimi. Switching to Japanese, she said. "This is Artemis and Diana. I saw their sigils."
"And I see yours," said Artemis. "You are the firstborn of Mars, are you not?"
Deja took a step back. "You shouldn't say things like that here, any of you. There are people who speak Japanese."
"A good point," said Artemis. "You have the good sense of your mother. And the tact."
Deja boiled for a moment, but held her tongue. "Did you bring Luna?"
Kimi pointed in the window. "Yes. She had a baby here too. See?"
"There," said Diana, pointing. She drew close to the other girls and whispered, "Mama was in labor when we came through the gate. We had to come now or we would have had to wait for a long time."
Deja squinted, then pulled the rather thick glasses she wore from her bag. "Oh, my. So she was born the same day as Tomiko and the others. This must mean something . . ."
"All the others?" asked Diana.
Deja explained. "My mother and all the Inner Senshi had babies today. And all of the Outer Senshi except Hotaru."
"All of them?" exclaimed Artemis. "The Outers too?"
"Yes. Michiru and Haruka are in France, and Setsuna is in Florida, but they had their babies today. This is the day of the new moon."
Artemis got up, and began to study the rest of the babies. Diana, however, studied Kimi. "You look so different than I thought you would."
"Why do you say that?" asked Kimi. "What am I supposed to look like?"
"Well, I thought your hair would be sort of pink."
Kimi was about to say something, but Deja asserted herself. "Oh, I know what you think. You must be looking for Chibi-Usa. Do you have memories of your old life?"
"Maybe . . . " Now Diana took a step back. "Some of it is scary."
Ishtar stepped forward and reached out with her hands and her powers to comfort Diana. "They are only memories. Sarah has them, too."
"Sarah?" asked Diana.
"Sarah is my older sister. She has the memories of Chibi-Usa," said Kimi. "Some of them are scary, too."
"Very scary," said Ishtar. "Scarier than yours, I think. But Sarah-chan has learned to be brave. And I have learned, too. And if I have learned, then you will learn. We will help you."
"Yes," said Kimi. "We will help you."
"And you will help my mother, Neko-san," said Ishtar. "I hope. She is very sad since Uncle Kevin died."
Artemis got a puzzled look. "Kimi, you said you were the oldest, didn't you?"
"I am the oldest of the children okasan had with otousan. But Sarah's father was different."
"Yes," said Deja. "Chibi-Usa's father never was Mamoru. My mother saw that as soon as Sarah was born."
"But . . . " Artemis, for once, was at a loss for words.
Ishtar said, "There are many more things that I think will surprise you, Neko-san."
Usagi did not like to use her power to read thoughts on her friends, but she could not help but do it to Luna when they first met, after seeing her expression. "Yes, this is what has become of me. Far from the destiny you trained me for."
"You are speaking the old Moon tongue."
"I am?" Usagi remarked. "So. It has been some time since I spoke it . . . Venus can speak it well, and the Outers, of course . . . and Sarah, but she does not like to speak it. It brings up the memories."
"That is the name I gave my oldest daughter. You would know her as Chibi-Usa. She has the same soul, but Sarah does not like to remember too much of her old life . . . and I do not. But since you do not know of it, Luna, I will tell you."
Usagi told the story of her first time in the world of the Grey Lady, and how Chibi-Usa had died, and how she came to be reborn as Sarah. "The Founder once said he thought she had done this all before. Perhaps he knows more. I have never been able to read the little man's thoughts, unless he wished to speak with me silently."
"So Crystal Tokyo will never be?"
"Not as it was. I certainly won't be its Queen."
"You don't need to have legs to be a Queen."
"No. But something I did when I was the Queen in the future that is now not to be brought great evil. The Founder thinks I could do even worse if I do it again."
Luna shook her head, and held her infant closer. "The future is certainly different than what I expected it to be," she said, looking at Usagi's infants. "They will be senshi, too. And powerful."
"Why were there so few senshi in the time of the Moon Kingdom?"
"Oh, there were many soldiers. Very few people of the Moon Kingdom did not have some kind of useful power. But during the reigns of the last three Serenities before your mother, we fought many wars. Most of our most powerful families died out. You do not remember this from your life as the Moon Princess?"
"The Moon Princess was an even poorer student than I," said Usagi. "History bored her. That I remember."
Luna carefully set Celeste down in her basinet. "You are so changed from when I knew you . . ."
"Go on about the senshi of the Moon Kingdom."
"They were the best from each world," said Luna. "When my Serenity first took the throne, she proposed that the other worlds recreate their royal houses by selecting the best people. But when they recreated their royal houses, the families produced only one child each. They were much more powerful than the others, but there was only one from each planet."
"But nine or ten soldiers are not an army," said Usagi. "Minako keeps saying that, and things like it."
"She was not only a soldier; she was the General. The one in charge of our military forces. Strange that Minako should have her memories and powers; the General did not seem much like Mina-chan."
"But not strange that the Moon Princess became part of me," said Usagi. "She was a silly girl, the Princess."
"But she had a good heart," said Luna. "A good Queen must have that. No other ability will matter without it."
"Thank you, Luna," said Usagi. "But I am not sure I have such a heart." She told Luna of the other enemies she had fought, and of the men she had hunted and killed. "When I was shot, I was killing some boys. Boys with guns trying to kill, who probably had already killed, but boys . . . Perhaps that is why my magic did not protect me." Usagi lowered her head. "The little man warned me, Mako and Minako tried to make me stay home that night, but I did not listen. I thought I was giving up Mamoru to Gin-chan forever. It was like dying . . . I was very lucky to live." Usagi looked up, tears falling freely down her cheek, but without a sob; the drops might have been rain, so natural they appeared, so perfectly resigned was Usagi to their fall. Looking at Luna, she asked, "Do you think I still have a good heart? With all that I have done?"
Luna was quiet for a long moment. "You have done things I would not have allowed you to do, if I were still your Guardian. But they bother you. If you did not have a good heart, they would not."
Usagi smiled for a moment. "Thank you, Luna." Then she looked over at her babies. "I asked Kimi if she could see their sigils. She said she could not make them out yet, but I know she was lying. You can see them, can you not? Please, I do not want to read your thoughts, but this is important."
Luna paused a long time before answering. She went over to the basinets where the twins lay sleeping. After another wait, she said, "Chibi Ikuko's sigil is three moons. Juliette has four."
"Have you seen them before?"
Luna said carefully, "The four moons were used by several famous people over our history."
Usagi picked up a pad and pencil, and drew on it. "Do the three moons look like this?"
"Yes, something like that."
Usagi sighed. "Then you suspect what I do."
"Princess, should I tell anyone?"
"I am plain Usagi now. Your friend . . . Artemis, of course; he can read sigils. But no one else for now."
"Does Kimi know? Artemis told me she can also read sigils."
"Probably. She can keep her thoughts from me better than Sarah." Usagi shook her head. "I will tell her enough so that she does not get the wrong idea."
"Having the powers does not mean having the memories," said Luna. "Or the soul, or even part of it." She came to Usagi's bed, sat on it, and bent down to kiss her forehead. "It must be for a reason, my Lady."
"Yes . . . they will be needed. But not until they grow up, I hope." Usagi pushed herself into a more comfortable position. "I am becoming as big a worrier as otousan. Let's talk about something else. Have you been living as a human all the time since you left?"
"Yes. After the first year, I could not transform into a cat. Or even use illusion to appear as one. That is what we were doing most of the time, you know, Artemis and I."
"Why did you not tell me?"
"You had enough to worry about. And, of course, it would have been especially delicate for Artemis. It was better for everyone to believe we were only cats. It made our enemies more confident than they should have been."
Usagi wrinkled her brow. "But Diana . . . She was always on Chibi-Usa's head. She must have been a kitten, most of the time."
Luna shrugged. "That Diana was much like Chibi-Usa; she would not tell us much of the future. Our Diana can assume kitten form for a few minutes a day. Perhaps she will get better at it . . . or perhaps she will lose that power. Only a few of our people could ever do that." Luna sighed. "I hope we have become human enough for Diana and Celeste to find husbands and have children someday, if that is their wish. We may be the last of our people. Our homeworld was destroyed long ago."
"Was not Tin Nyanko one of your people?"
"Yes. I think she must have been from a lost colony. But that world was destroyed by Galaxia, too."
"It may not have been in this timeline," said Usagi. "Galaxia could travel through the Universes much more freely than our other enemies. I saw thousands of starseeds in her cache, each of them from the most powerful being of a world. She could even travel forward and back in time. The Founder once told Naru that his Company had helped some of your people flee from Galaxia's wars."
"I do not know that much of the Founder's business," said Luna.
Usagi shrugged. "Does anyone?" She shifted again, and asked, "Could you move my legs?" Usagi instructed Luna how she wanted them placed.
"Is that all right?"
"I think so . . . So, where have you been?"
"Several places . . . but I am glad we came here now! The last world we were on hasn't discovered anasthetics yet, and we couldn't risk hiring a midwitch."
"They are very intolerant of shapeshifters, at least the people we were living among. What if my baby were born in kitten form, like Diana was?"
"Well, that could be a problem here, too . . . take a look at your daughter."
The baby was the same size, but now had catlike features including whiskers and a coat of fur--black on one side of her body, white on the other.
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