A few hours later, Julie and the other senshi sat huddled together in a hotel room near the stadium where they had first been transported by the mysterious Matt (hew). The Architect was allowing the senshi to spend the night together in preparation for tomorrow’s epic showdown. He had even freed Lisa, Vanessa, and Kristina from their invisible floating bonds as a gesture of goodwill. For the most part, the three sailors were feeling fine despite their imprisonment, although Lisa now felt the need to snuggle even more closely to Bob – for protection, she claimed.
“Can we please start now?” Bob asked as she shoved the blue-haired freshman aside. “I’d really like to find my own PRIVATE room once the senshi meeting is over.”
“Sushi?” Niki said.
“It’s senshi, you dolt,” Valerie clenched her fists in annoyance. “I swear, if you get it wrong one more time, I’ll –”
“I’m not an idiot like Bob,” Niki retorted. “I know how it’s pronounced. I was asking if anyone wanted sushi. I’m thinking of getting some delivered.”
“You don’t have time to eat,” Julie said, grabbing Mallory’s arm and pulling her onto the double bed, while she plopped herself down on the floor with the other senshi. “You have a meeting to run.”
“Err, I didn’t realize I was in charge,” Mallory said, a bit flustered, perched on the end of the bed.
“It’s what Krystina would have wanted,” Julie replied. “Now tell us how the hell we are going to get out of this mess.”
“Err, sure.” Mallory was silent for a long moment as she scanned the room, looking for inspiration. “Well, I was watching MacGyver on TV the other day, and it really got me thinking. If only we had a pen and paper, then we could –”
“Construct a self-propelled missile launcher slash leg hair remover?” Valerie guessed. She chucked. “That was a funny episode.”
“Err, no.” Mallory said sheepishly. “I thought we could use the pen and paper to make a list of ways we can possibly save ourselves and/or the world.”
“Here’s paper and pen,” the useful, and never redundant, Special K said as she handed said items over to Mallory. “It’s got the hotel branded on the side. There’s also a Bible if you think we’ll be needing one for last rights or something.”
“Thanks,” Mallory said. She pulled off the cap and set the point of the pen to the paper. “So … suggestions?”
The room was very, very quiet. You could have heard a pin drop. Or a pen, if Mallory had dropped it. Or you could have found a needle in a haystack if you were looking very, very quietly.
Then suddenly there came a knock at the door.
“Oh thank goodness,” Niki said, relieved that the awkward silence had been lifted. “I think my senshi delivery is here.” She froze half-way to the door. “Senshi. Senshi – sushi? F#%k.”
“I believe they call that word-vomit,” Julie said unhelpfully, as she pushed past Niki to the room door.
“It did leave a rather sour aftertaste,” Niki sighed, pursing her lips.
“Sometimes you just can’t stop the worthless crap that comes out of your mouth.” Julie unlocked the deadbolt and pulled open the door – and gasped with surprise. “KRYSTINA?!!”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Julie cried at the purple- colored feline that stood in the doorway.
Krystina the cat sniffed at Julie as she sauntered in, leaping up onto the bed to settle next to Mallory. “You don’t very well think that I had left you to your own devises?” she said haughtily in a vague old-lady British accent. “Honestly, the world would have ended three years ago if I wasn’t here to fill the void left when half of you were born without brains.”
“Whoa, mega burn!” Valerie cried, debating whether or not she should be impressed or insulted.
“Seriously, thanks for that vote of confidence,” an embarrassed second-in-command sighed, throwing the pen and paper aside. “We might as well give up now, huh?”
“If it makes you feel any better, I categorized you in the half with brains,” Krystina reassured Mallory.
“Krystina, how did you manage to find us?” Eva said. “I admit that I need to brush up on my Web of Time 101, but I have at least deduced that we’re caught in some kind of temporal flux of the time-space continuum … or someplace else with really big words I only pretend to understand.”
“I have friends in misty places,” Krystina replied with a wink. She coughed up a hairball. “Now let’s get down to business. I don’t know for sure what’s in store for Julie in the showdown tomorrow, but I do know that there’s only one way she’ll find the strength to defeat the leader of the Others in time to save the Republic from certain doom.”
“By drinking carbonated beverages of the future?” Alexia guessed.
“By morphing into a harmless little bunny and then multiplying at an alarmingly fast rate?” Vanessa suggested. “I could show her how. To morph, I mean. Not to breed.”
“Both are valid suggestions,” Krystina said, pacing the length of the bed, “but neither will work. The evil we face is far too great.”
“I know what would work,” Lisa said quietly, her eyes closed. She was lying at the foot of the bed and appeared to be deep in thought. Either that or she was talking in her sleep. “I discovered the truth months ago on the day you first discovered that I was a senshi. After Julie ran me over and put me in the coma.”
Julie laughed nervously. “You’re missing a key word there. Accidentally. I accidentally ran you over and put you in that coma.”
“Don’t worry, no hard feelings”, Lisa smiled. “It was destined to happen, you know. It’s why I’m destined to be the strongest … And it is why I am the last.”
Krystina’s ears perked up and she stared intently at the youngest senshi. “Go on, Sailor Meow,” she said. “It’s time that they learned the truth.”
Lisa opened her eyes and turned to Julie. She spoke without raising her voice above a whisper - reverently, as though speaking any louder would make it all untrue. “There is a place in the desert. A sacred place where none may go but a great warrior. There is a spirit guide there, one who knows the past and the future. She helped me find my true calling and told me that some day I would awaken to my full potential. You must go to her. It is the only way.”
Julie glared at Krystina, somewhat miffed. “Who is this spirit guide and how come the freshman knows about her but I don’t?”
Krystina leapt down from the bed and walked over to where Julie sat, resting a paw on the leader’s knee. “Julie,” she said gently, “you mustn’t be upset. There’s no time for hurt feelings. This guide is more important and powerful than you could possibly imagine. She was the first to be blessed with the power of the planets.”
Julie frowned. “The first to be blessed with the power of the planets? But that means …”
“That’s right,” Krystina nodded. “She’s the original Sailor Senshi.”
“Holy sushi!” Niki cried in disbelief. “That chick must be old.”
“She would be if she were still living,” Krystina agreed. “However, she died a millennia ago. Upon her deathbed, the first Sailor Senshi released some of her power into the earth, and from this power, other senshi were called. For hundreds of years, the power spread, spilling out across the planets and into other galaxies and seeking out thousands of girls of destiny, instilling within them strength, speed, and special abilities. Lisa is the last.”
“But why is Lisa the last?” Vanessa asked.
“I really wish I could answer that question,” Krystina sighed. “We’ve known for years that the end was coming – the Prince, the Fairy, and myself. We’ve done all we can to prepare you for the evil you must face but we still don’t know how to keep the senshi line from dying out.”
“We’re losing our grip on our powers, aren’t we?” Eva said. “I’ve been a senshi for many more years than the others, but I’m still not as powerful as I should be. I can’t control Time like a true guardian should.” She sighed. “Hell, I can’t even tell Time and that’s pretty damn bad.”
“And let’s not forget that we outnumber the senshi from outer space 2 to 1 and we STILL can’t defeat them,” Bob chimed in. As usual, her contribution to the conversation didn’t make anyone feel better.
“We’ve done what we can,” Krystina said, shooting the blonde a nasty look. “It’s up to Julie to take the next step to save the senshi line - and to save ourselves.”
“No pressure or anything,” Julie muttered to herself. “Sooo, when do we put this brilliant plan into action?”
The night sky was full of twinkling stars, and although they seemed dim and far away, Julie was surprised to find that they provided enough light for her to see around the outskirts of the desert. However, she was less surprised about that than she was about the fact that the desert located conveniently outside their hotel just happened to be the very same desert where Lisa had encountered the spirit guide.
Talk about coincidence.
Julie stood at the edge of a sandy dune, scanning the surrounding area for signs of life or a path she was meant to follow. Despite the canteen of water slung across her hip and her history of lucky breaks, Julie still didn’t fancy wandering an unknown desert alone at night. She was just about to call out for her spirit guide when she caught sight of a pair of eyes glowing luminously from behind a scrawny cactus plant.
“Err, hello!” Julie greeted the glowing eyes with reservation. “I hope you don’t belong to anything from the Panthera tigris family.” The glowing eyes shifted position, moving closer to the senshi, and she was relieved to see that they belonged to a white cow, rather than something more sinister.
“You know, I thought you were dead,” Julie said, recognizing that this desert cow was none other than the cow as white as milk, once thrown from a French castle and then forced to ingest Bob’s hair. “I’m really sorry about last year. You know, landing on Bob, eating her hair and then dying and stuff,” she said sympathetically as she patted the cow on the back. “If it makes you feel any better, Bob died a bloody, grisly death not long after you passed on … But then she came back. Damnit.”
The cow as white as milk mooed softly and nudged Julie with its head, gently pointing her in the direction from which it came.
“I’m guessing we go that way?”
The cow nodded, and assured that Julie would follow, it turned and walked off. Immobile for a long moment, Julie watched as darkness closed around the departing white rump before rushing forward to join her new animal guide. As the senshi and cow journeyed deeper into the desert, she wondered where it would lead her.
Back in the hotel room, the rest of the Sailor Senshi were miserable, waiting impatiently for Julie’s hopeful return, and wishing that in the meantime they could do something useful.
“I wish that we could do something useful!” Special K cried, stamping her foot in frustration. “The suspense is killing me.”
“Leaving our fates in Julie’s hands doesn’t exactly reassure me that we’ll all live to see tomorrow.” Bob sniffed. Offended on Julie’s behalf, Niki smacked the blonde on the back of her head - although secretly, she agreed with her.
“As the Sailor Senshi leader, this is her duty, a burden she must bear,” Lisa said very serenely. Out of all of them, she seemed to be coping the best. “We must have faith that the spirit guide will show her the way.”
“What was the spirit guide like?” Eva asked Lisa casually. “She wasn’t … mysterious and disembodied, was she?”
Lisa smiled. “Well, she was quite mysterious, but she wasn’t disembodied.” Lisa’s voice became deeper and more dramatic as she relished in her memory. “ I first glimpsed her on the other side of a sacred fire, moving with an animal grace. Her body was covered in tribal marking and she was clothed in garments not seen for thousands of years. She was primitive, yes, but she was much more than that – ancient, wise, and powerful.”
“Well, I bet she doesn’t have a door or a magical ornate staff-thingie,” Eva muttered, failing to conceal her jealousy.
“Don’t worry,” Lisa said, patting Eva on the shoulder. “Just because the original Sailor Senshi is the only one wise enough and powerful enough to lead Julie to victory doesn’t mean that you should feel inferior or anything. Your contributions to this team, though minor, are still valued.”
“And hey, we like you a lot more than Bob,” Mallory said cheerfully.
Somehow this didn’t make Eva feel any better.
It was still night in the desert but now Julie’s path was lit by flames as well as stars. The cow as white as milk had led her to a bonfire at the gaping mouth of a desert cave before it departed. Julie knew that she was expected to wait near the fire for whoever – or whatever – was lurking within the darkness of the cave, just out of sight. Julie positioned herself cross-legged before the fire and stared across the flames into the cave.
Not sure what to expect, Julie was startled when a flash of movement from the cave caught her eye. She squinted through the flames and could make out a human-shaped shadow, crouched low and swaying side to side, staring at the senshi.
“Err, hello,” Julie greeted a mysterious figure for the second time that night. She was far nicer to mysterious figures than she was to freshmen. “I take it you’re my spirit guide?”
The swaying, shadowy figure said nothing.
Julie frowned, unsure of how the meeting was supposed to progress. “Is this like a three questions thing? ‘Cause if it is, then my favorite color is blue. I mean … red.” She paused, deep in thought. “Yes, red.”
The swaying, shadowy figure still said nothing.
“So, how about the whole senshi line dying out and no more sailors being called to guide the planets? Wanna tell me what that’s all about?” Julie tried to sound casual.
When the spirit guide finally spoke, it was with a mystical – though not disembodied – voice. “You think you are losing your ability to love.”
Julie was flabbergasted, practically dumbstruck, although, as usual, she couldn’t be silenced for long. “Huh? I didn’t say that! What the hell are you talking about?”
The spirit guide didn’t seem to be moving her lips but the words still came, filling Julie’s mind. “You are afraid that being a senshi means losing your humanity.”
“You know, if the other senshi were here, they’d probably make a crack about how I didn’t have any humanity to begin with. And then I’d kill ‘em.”
“Love is pain and the Sailor Senshi must forge strength from it.”
Julie nodded this time. She was beginning to think there might be something to this whole wise-and-powerful Original Sailor Senshi thing. “I’d actually have to agree with you on that one. When I thought I was in love with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Tuxedo Dego, not the other one), that was quite painful. And humiliating. And although I’m expected to love my daughter, he/she causes me more pain than you could possibly realize …”
The primitive senshi paced behind the bonfire, the fire’s flames making her shadow dance along the cave’s wall. “Love will bring you to your gift.”
“What?” a confused Julie said. It dawned on her that this is how Mallory must feel on a regular basis. It sucks not knowing what the hell people are talking about.
“Death is your gift.”
Say what? Julie’s eyes widened. “Death –”
“Is your gift,” the primitive senshi finished, nodding as she swayed.
“Death is the gift … I’m bringing to Bob?” Julie asked, more confused than ever.
The primitive senshi merely smiled. “Your question has been answered.” She stopped swaying and stood from her crouched position.
A bewildered Julie watched as the Original Sailor Senshi, the cave, and the bonfire shimmered like a mirage and vanished from view. As Julie’s eyes adjusted once again to the darkness, she found that she was staring at the hotel where she and the other senshi were staying as Matt(hew)’s “guests”.
Her pilgrimage was over. Dawn was on the horizon.
The sun was already high in the sky a few hours later, after the Architect’s camera-wielding cronies had roughly collected the senshi from their hotel room. Julie was once again standing in the huge outdoor stadium, surrounded by cheering fans, only this time she stood alone. She suspected that the other senshi were being held in the plush TV viewing room where she had recently watched their own reality struggles. Lucky them.
A pink-haired figure approached from the opposite end of the stadium. Sailor Cranberry looked far more smug and confident than Julie felt, but Sailor Moo refused to show the enemy any weaknesses. She stuck her chin up in the air and put on her b*tch face. (which, by the way, looked an awful lot like her everyday face).
As the two senshi leaders stood glaring at each other on the stadium’s 50 yard line, the Architect joined them, wearing a striped umpire’s uniform and the same four nametags. “Are we ready for the final showdown?” He asked, far too cheerfully. “Winner takes all – the Earth and the future. No pressure.”
Cranberry glared down her nose at Julie. “Remember what I said last time? You better bring it.”
Julie glared back up at Cranberry, narrowing her eyes so much that they were no longer open. “Oh don’t worry, it’s already on its way – bubble-wrapped, packaged taped, and mailed through UPS – first class.” Sucka’!
Cranberry laughed haughtily. “Then it’ll never make it here in time. You should have used Fed-Ex.”
“Now, girls, girls,” the Architect chided, “let’s save the cat fight for when the games begin. No reason to kill each other before then.”
“game” are we playing, exactly?” Julie challenged. “The Real Sailors of
The Architect laughed. “Gracious, no. Although that ElimiSENSHI sounds like a premise with promise. I’ll keep that in mind for next season, should anyone survive until then.” He cleared his throat and his smile became significantly more malevolent. “No, the game you will be playing is more of a throwback to the classic game shows of yesteryear. I call it – The Price is Life.”
The Price is Life
Julie and Sailor Cranberry stood side by side behind flamboyantly colored podiums, both wearing hand-written nametags. Julie had expected the sets to look somewhat more sinister, but the stage was only a slightly modified replica of the original – which, though 80s color-schemed, was fairly low on the sinister scale. Maybe a 3.5/10.
Cranberry smirked down at Julie. “This should be an easy victory. The Price is Right is my favorite show.”
Julie was surprised. “Really? You mean the series is broadcast all the way to planet Slutty Skirts or wherever it is that you come from?”
Cranberry rolled her eyes. “Of course it is. My planet isn’t that far away, you know, and the hole in your Ozone layer makes reception even better. Besides, Bob Barker is from my hometown in the Omega Star zone. We’re big fans.”
“WHAT? BOB BARKER IS AN ALIEN?” Julie tried to play it cool, but inside she was seething. And all this time I trusted him to showcase valuable prizes with retail prices that can be guessed by the average Joe-Schmo … I wanted to be that Joe-Schmo!
“Of course he is. All talk show hosts are from other planets. It’s why they have such unnaturally large white teeth.”
overheard their conversation, the Architect chuckled malevolently again. “True, true. Unfortunately, Bob Barker is no longer with
us. He retired before the taping of this
episode. Missed the shores of
Julie wasn’t sure whether this news was good or bad. “So, who’s the new host, then?”
“Let’s find out!” The Architect said cheerfully as he turned to face the stage. “Will the new host of The Price is Life – Come on Down!”
Julie gasped as she saw the host enter, convinced now that the Earth was surely doomed. The last time she had seen that large-nosed, hideous visage had been in the fortress of Mistress 13. It had taken all of the then-living senshi, the superheroes from the 80s, plus Boudreaux’s Butt Paste to defeat him the first time. It was something she prayed every night to forget. The whole thing was almost as disturbing as –
“Bonjour … ‘Allo … Salut!” Mr. Schmith, former B*tch, greeted the audience in his obnoxious French accent. “For aujoud’hui’s Contestant’s Row, our prize ees this …” he paused for dramatic effect as a curtain behind him was raised to reveal – “zee singing l’ananas!”
“NOOOOOOOO!” Julie screamed in horror, covering her eyes and looking away. “Anything but that! For Niki’s Sweatshirt’s sake, give me a skeleton rock band or a murderous chef with knives, just not –”
Julie’s plea was silenced for at that moment, zee singing l’ananas had begun to sing, in high-pitched, watery voices.
Zee Price is Life-
Make a bid!
Whoever gets closest,
Ees zee one that lives!
Mr. Schmith smiled and clapped effeminately as the pineapples finished their rather disturbing song. “Zere you have eet, zee rules of the game, sung so eloquently by zee most talented of all fruits. Now vee begin!” He spun around and jabbed a long finger in Julie’s face. “You! Vhat is your bid?”
Julie slowly lowered her hands from her eyes. She gulped nervously, shivering when she saw that the l’ananas were smiling at her with terrible, pointed teeth. “Um ... Two-fifty?”
Mr. Schmith sneered at her. “Very vell. Two-fifty it is.” He spun back to Cranberry. “And you? Vhat is your bid?”
“Let’s see … pineapples are considered a delicacy on my home planet and they are quite expensive there, due to having to import them across 3 million light years,” Cranberry mused out loud. “So I’ll guess one hundred dollars?”
Ah ha! What a dumba$$, Julie thought. I relish my soon-to-be victory.
“Vell, you are both wrong,” the ex-B*tch sneered again (the French have always been big on the sneers). “Remember those Mastercard commercials? Pineapples from the grocery store - three seventy-five … zee singing l’ananas – PRICELESS.” He raised a finger and once again pointed at Julie. “I am afraid vith zee lowest bid, you lose.”
Julie felt a stab punch her in the gut. She doubled over, gasping. From her bent position she could see the front of her podium which was marked with a row of three large, glowing Xs. As she wheezed in pain, one of the Xs flickered and the light died. There were two left.
Mr. Schmith continued to sneer. “As zey say in zhat ball game zhat you American-types like to play – three strikes and you’re out!”
A few minutes later, Cranberry and Julie had moved to the next round of the game. Neither leader was smiling now as both had begun to realize what was at stake – not just Earth, but their own lives. Being rather selfish, this disturbed them more than the thought of future doom ... or the well-being of their home planets.
“In zhis next round, zee prize ees very exciting, and eet is something zhat one of you should recognize.” With an evil gleam in his eyes, Mr. Schmith raised his arm to signal the curtain to raise, revealing none other than –
“A milk pail?” Cranberry said with disgust. “You’re joking, right?”
“Not just ANY milk pail,” Julie exclaimed, recognizing that despite its rather humble appearance, this was the very pail that aided her in defeating a Big-Bad from an earlier season, sometime in the past. It was so many years ago, her memory was kind of vague as far as which bad guy that was. “It’s the Holy Milk Pail! An artifact of great power, and a vessel for more than mere milk. It belongs to me!”
“Vell, in that case,” Cranberry replied in a sarcastic French accent, “I vill vin it for you.”
“Wow, that’s really sweet of –” Julie began, before catching onto the sarcasm. B*tch.
“Vell, let’s begin, shall vee?” Mr. Schmith said sweetly. “This next game ees like zee ever-popular Tic-Tac-Toe, but vee call it here – Zecret X. How you play ees you reveal a zecret and you receive a game piece. Zee other player asks zee question. Lie, and you die! Very zimple, oui?” The two senshi nodded. “And vee begin vith you!”
Julie pushed aside Mr. Schmith’s pointed finger. “Alright, what “zecret” do I need to tell?”
It was a long moment before Cranberry responded. She obviously saw that the game was an ideal opportunity to discover the enemy’s weaknesses. “What do you treasure above all things in life?”
“That’s easy, my Platinum Nintendo 2064. It is my life.” Cranberry scowled as Mr. Schmith nodded and handed Julie an X which she placed on the game board in the top right of the nine squares.
Julie smirked at Cranberry. “Here’s a kicker for you. Is that your natural hair color?”
Cranberry’s face turned a shade very similar to the green of her hair as her scowl deepened. “No,” she muttered. The fact that the question was irrelevant to the senshi war didn’t make her feel any better. Mr. Schmith smiled as he handed her an O which she placed on the game board in the top left square.
“What is your greatest fear?” Cranberry asked Julie, sure that this answer would be the key to victory.
“That Nintendo will stop making games for the Platinum Nintendo 2064 and I will be forced to purchase the Wii. It’s just not the same!” Feeling more confident, Julie placed her next game piece in the bottom left square. Sailor Cranberry stamped her foot in frustration.
“Was your “Emperor” aware that your little “Death Star” is a blatant rip-off from a very popular American science-fiction film?” Julie asked in an accusatory tone. “Actually, six films, but they like to pretend like those last three were never really made.”
“I don’t know what you’re—” Cranberry began, belligerently, but when Mr. Schmith shook his head, running his finger across his adam’s apple, she sighed. “Yes, we knew it was a ripoff.” Still looking rather embarrassed, she took her next O and put it in the middle square.
Cranberry turned back to Julie. “Is there anyone you love so much that you would sacrifice yourself to save them?”
Julie frowned, recalling her visit with the Original Sailor Senshi the night before and the confusing – but poignant – things she had said. You are afraid that being a senshi means losing your humanity. She recalled also the many times that her own guardians had sacrificed themselves for her, both in the present and the distant past, and she felt a little twang of guilt. But since lying meant death in this vicious game of Tic-Tac-Toe, she had to tell the truth.
“No,” Julie said simply. “There is no one that I would sacrifice myself for.”
Both Cranberry and Mr. Schmith’s eyes widened with surprise. “Wow, how is it that you ended up as a ‘good guy’?” the green haired senshi asked. “You’re selfish, uncaring, immoral, and indifferent. You’re much worse than me!”
Julie shrugged as she placed her third X in the bottom right square. “Well, the Sorting Hat did seriously consider putting me in Slytherin, but that’s another story.” She did a double take at the game board and grinned widely. “Ah ha! No matter where you put your next piece, I still win! XXX across the bottom or XXX down the right side.”
Mr. Schmith nodded with obvious disappointment as Julie grabbed the Holy Milk Pail and swung it around her head triumphantly. “Ah, so eet ees. I fear zhat knocks contestant Cranberry down to two XXs.” Cranberry paled as one of the Xs on her podium went dark. “But have no fear! Zee Showcase Showdown ees still anyone’s game. And you are in for quite a surprise! On to Round Trois!”
Julie stared up at the big, colorful wheel she recognized from watching The Price is Right so many boring, Saturday mornings. The only difference now was that instead of cent amounts ranging between 5 cents and .00 there were names all along the wheel – Unico, Special K, Pink, Chocolate, ChibiS, Psychy, Tange, PerkyFluffyBunny, 24601, Mini Moo, Light, Ecco, Meow, Boris, and Unknown.
Sailor Cranberry and Julie exchanged looks. They both could see the wheel and had noticed that the names of all of their friends and teammates were listed. They knew it couldn’t bode well, for anyone.
“Ah oui, zee Big Wheel!” Mr. Schmith cried exuberantly. “You’ll find this game to be somewhat different than the original. You each have two spins. The names your spinner lands on are zee people who vill be spared. Zhey are the ones whose lives you vill play for in the final round. Everyone else gets chucked zhrough zee portal that vill open behind zee wheel.”
“Where does the portal lead?” Cranberry asked, her voice shaking slightly with concern.
Mr. Schmith shrugged. “Somewhere in zee Mists of Time, I suppose. Vhere ever eet ees, eet ees somewhere the living can not go. Expect to never see zhem again!”
“But that’s not fair!” Julie cried. “We’ve followed all of the rules. We’ve played the Architect’s stupid games, and we were promised that the winners would be able to go home! We’ve suffered and bled and been forced to eat and do terrible things, and when I say “we”, of course I mean “they”, although by watching them, I was forced to suffer vicariously, possibly suffering even more than they were suffering. For you see, unlike Elfyn, I do have tastebuds, and watching him eat was just –”
“Enough vith your long-winded-blabbering, you silly senshi!” Mr. Schmith yelled, cutting Julie’s rant off before she could really get going. “Eef you had bothered to read zee contracts you signed before beginning zee games, you vould realize that nowhere vas eet written that ALL senshi would make eet safely home. Zee winner vill either be Sailor Moo or Sailor Cranberry. Everyone else ees merely reality tv fodder! Zhey vill live or zhey vill die. YOU decide!”
Sailor Cranberry gasped, horrified, and Julie gasped, indigent over being interrupted for the nth time that day. For a moment, the two senshi were kindred spirits, united against a common foe. But that moment quickly passed and they were enemies once again.
“As zee winner of zee last round, Sailor Moo vill go first. And just to make sure zhere’s no funny business …” Mr. Schmith snapped his fingers and all of the other senshi appeared floating next to the Big Wheel, suspended helplessly in midair. “Eef you delay or refuse to spin, I vill personally send one girl flying through zee portal every minute until zhere ees none left! NOW PLAY!”
Julie had never felt so helpless. Her mind raced as she tried to think of something – anything – that she could do to save her friends, but she was trapped. There was no way out of this game, except to play by the B*tch’s rules.
As Julie reached up to the Big Wheel to give it a hard spin, she sent a silent hopeful prayer out into the void where Niki’s Sweatshirt was supposed to be, assuming, of course, that it really existed. Please let me save someone worthwhile! Mallory or Eva or … anyone but Bob!
Anyone but Bob, anyone but Bob … Julie chanted as she sent the wheel spinning. As the wheel began to pick up speed, everything else seemed to slow down – Mr. Schmith, Cranberry, the audience and the other senshi. No one was moving or speaking and the only sound Julie could hear was the pounding of her own heart.
As Julie watched, unmoving, a shimmering portal, blindingly blue and white, opened slowly behind the wheel, growing steadily larger. From the portal’s gaping mouth, mist began to pour out and through the mist, Julie heard a voice from the recent past.
Love will bring you to your gift.
“Right, you said that already!” Julie yelled back to the portal. “But I still don’t know what it means! I could use a little more help here! A power boost, or some butt paste … or something!”
Death is your gift.
Julie was furious. “Damn it woman, would you do me a favor and just …”
And suddenly it all clicked into place. What the spirit guide had told her in the desert. What she was meant to do. It was her destiny, her final act as Sailor Moo.
This is why Meow is the last. No more senshi will be called as my guardians.
As the wheel continued to spin, even as it slowed down, preparing to stop, Julie took a deep breath. Time was still moving slowly, so she knew that there was nothing that Cranberry or the B*tch could do to stop her. She turned to her friends, the other senshi, to say goodbye.
And what happened then? Well, in Loserville they say that Sailor Moo’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then the true meaning of Love came through and Julie found the strength of ten senshi, plus two.
“What’s happening?” Mallory asked groggily as Julie’s eyes fell upon her. The other senshi were still immobile, still stuck in the weird time slow down, but Mallory seemed to have been freed. Julie suspected it was because Mallory was destined to be the new senshi leader.
“Mallory, listen to me. I’ve come to the – rather startling – realization that I love you. I love ALL of you (except, perhaps, Bob). But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Krystina that I figured it out. And, and I’m okay. And give my love to the others. You have to take care of them now. You have to be strong.”
“I … am so … confused!” Mallory whimpered. “What’s going on?”
Julie reached up to clasp Mallory’s floating hand. “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” She turned away before her second in command could see the tears streaming down her face. On second thought … Julie turned back to Mallory. “By the way, my dying wish is that you destroy my Platinum Nintendo 2064 so no one may derive as much pleasure from it as I have. Promise me you’ll do it!”
“Um … okay …”
Reassured, Julie turned back to face the pulsating portal which had grown even larger, overshadowing the wheel. The wheel itself had almost stopped spinning. Julie knew that the moment the wheel stopped, normal time would resume, and it would be too late to make the sacrifice that had to be made.
Here goes nothing … I suppose there’s always the chance that I’ll be able to come back as a spirit with some unfinished business. Haunting Bob could turn out to be a rather pleasant past time …
Before she could change her mind, before she could question her decision or realize that the feeling inside of her wasn’t really love but a severe case of heartburn, Julie closed her eyes and leapt into the shimmering portal.
The wheel stopped.
And to everyone’s astonishment, Julie and the portal were gone.