Niki sighed as she answered the door for the second time that day, hoping the plainclothes officers would be on the porch with a tranquilizer gun, ready to shoot. It had been almost three hours since her last nap, and she was starting to get cranky.
Without so much as a "hello" or "so sorry for the home invasion", Julie and the other senshi swarmed past Niki, following a fast-moving Krystina through the house and heading straight for the back room (except where they had to detour around stacks of Playboy magazines and marijuana plants). The group slowed as they reached the doorway, allowing Julie to take the lead.
Julie came to a stop when she reached the couch where Lisa sat clinging to a disgruntled Bob. “Am I interrupting anything?” Julie asked sweetly, baring her teeth.
“Not at all,” Lisa replied. “Bob was just keeping me well-snuggled as I recover from my formerly comatose state. Meow.”
Julie raised an eyebrow. “Meow? Are we doing that again?”
Lisa shrugged. “It comes and goes.”
“So, um, are you a messiah now?” Mallory said. She tilted her head to the side and squinted at the tomboy freshman. “You don’t really look like one.”
“It’s her lack of hair,” Niki said. “Mine got really long when I was a messiah; I think the follicles were an outlet for my power or something. But Lisa’s didn’t get any longer. Too bad, huh?” She was more than a little smug about this.
“You think that short hair means she’s less powerful?” Eva said.
“It’s just a theory,” Niki shrugged. “We could always try poking her with sharp utensils to test her threshold for pain …”
“Or Julie could beat her over the head with her new amber spyglass thingie,” Valerie said. "It's all that's left of the A$$ Penny and the Holy Milk Pail. We don’t know what it is, but it’s probably effective for beating freshm- er, messiahs.”
Whiskers twitching in anticipation, Krystina leapt to the arm of the couch for a better view. “Julie was successful in activating her new power?”
“Piece of cake,” Julie said as she dug through her purse for the bronze tubey thing which she had unceremoniously tossed to the bottom. “It’s either the Chinese Finger Trap of DOOM or the Collapsible Cane of Cosmic Wonder, I haven’t decided which sounds cooler.” She held up the mysterious talisman for the others to see.
“How very peculiar,” Krystina mused, running a paw along the smooth, shiny surface. “I’ve never seen anything like it …”
“I have,” Niki said, “but my brother was using it to get high, so I don’t think it’s the same thing.”
“Haha, the Blessed Bronze Bong of the Future. That would be pretty funny, but unlikely," Julie said. “The talisman doesn't seem to be hollow, but something’s gotta come out of it, yeah? Otherwise it’s just super lame.”
“You guys are kidding, right?”
The room fell silent as everyone turned their attention to Bob. Julie scowled. Whatever happened to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil? She hated being reminded that there were blondes in the room.
“Kidding about what?”
“About not knowing what that is.” Bob stood up from the couch and took a step closer to the talisman. Refusing to let go of Bob's waist, Lisa shuffled along with her.
“You know what it is?"
“Well yeah, I thought it was obvious.” Bob crossed her arms and grinned (evilly, of course) as she savored the moment. “I can’t believe I know something that you guys haven’t figured out yet.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Julie glared back. Including me strangling you. And disposing of the body. In pies.
“The suspense is killing me!” Vanessa exclaimed. “Just tell us what it is, already!”
“It’s a lightsaber,” Bob replied. “Duh.”
“A lightsaber?” Julie echoed. “Are you f#%king kidding me?”
Valerie spun around to face Mallory, hands on her hips. “How come you didn’t know that?”
“Why would I have known?”
“’Cause you watch Star Trekkie Wars all the time.”
“No I don’t!” Mallory protested. “I’m always telling you guys that I DON'T watch those shows! Why doesn’t anyone ever believe me?”
“I think lightsabers are awesome,” Eva said, geeking out a little. She was pretty bummed about having sacrificed her staff, but with the reveal of the lightsaber (and the bag of Skittles she had devoured earlier), she was beginning to perk up. “I wanna see it in action.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” Julie grunted. She pointed the talisman towards Bob and squinted, imagining a long blade of blue energy springing forth from the hilt and decapitating the blonde. When nothing happened, she began shaking it furiously up and down, yelling, “WORK! I command you to work!”
“You’re supposed to use THE Force, not just regular force,” Vanessa said, shaking her head. “Before he became a cat, Malcolm used to make me watch Star Wars. He spared me the crappy prequels, but I’ve seen more than enough lightsaber duels in my day. I bet I could figure it out.”
Julie handed the lightsaber to Vanessa who, after a period of careful examination, began beating it against the wall, commanding it to "WORK!". This was followed by fifteen minutes of musical lightsaber as the senshi passed the talisman around and tried activating the blade, most of the attempts involving violent outbursts against Niki’s walls and furniture. Finally, only Lisa and Bob were left.
“Whatever,” Julie sighed as she passed it to Lisa, the lesser of two evils.
As Lisa’s fingers connected with the lightsaber, Julie felt a spark of electricity jump between them. She gasped, letting go of her end as Lisa’s right hand molded smoothly to the saber's hilt, locking in place. Lisa closed her eyes and the senshi's jaws fell open (in synchronization) as a smooth, silvery light emerged from the end of the hilt, humming with electrical power.
“Holy Mary, mother of Niki’s sweatshirt …”
Everyone in the room held their breath as the light sword vanished and Lisa opened her eyes once again. “Did it work?” she asked, her eyes wide and hopeful.
“I want you to know that you’ve made my list,” Julie growled as she grabbed the talisman from the freshman, trying not to let her jealousy show. The talisman was still warm and buzzing with energy, but the blade did not emerge again.
“The list of people Julie plans on banishing once she regains her status as Princess of the Moo Kingdom,” Mallory said. “I think we’ve all made the list at least once.”
“Bob’s been on it fourteen times,” Niki said. “It would be nice if Julie would just get to the banishing already. Why delay a good thing?”
“Maybe I could be of service?” a villainous voice said from the doorway. “After all, banishing is my specialty.” Caught off-guard, the senshi spun, only to be faced with-
“ROOTBEER AND ALMONDS!” (Dum dum dum)
“Aw, you remember me?” Lauren said as she strutted into the room, Special K close on her heels. “That’s awfully sweet.” It’s possible that her voice was dripping with venomous sarcasm, but the senshi were too distracted by the 140 pounds of pure ex-sophomoric evil to gauge her sincerity.
“I knew you would eventually betray us!” Julie yelled over RA's shoulder.
Special K rolled her eyes. “You can’t be serious. I have no desire to be evil again. That was a path well-trod in my youthful days when I was a naďve, cashew-loving, Mountain Dew-drinking girl. I’ve grown since then, no thanks to Yellow 5. I’ve come to embrace truth, justice, and the American way."
"The American way meaning white picket fence and 2.5 kids? Or it's always five-o-clock somewhere?"
"The other American way. I've hired a mercenary.”
“You’ve hired people from Mercury?” Mallory was confused.
“I’m not from Mercury, I’m a hit man,” Lauren growled, barely suppressing the urge to hunt, maim, and kill all idiots formerly known as freshmen.
“Oh, well in that case, welcome to the team,” Julie said, relaxing a bit. It’s the people who are in it for the money you can trust the most. At least until they realize that you don’t have any.
“This is most excellent,” Krystina said. “The team has finally begun to assemble.”
“Begun to assemble?” Eva said. “But there’s like nine of us here already. The only one we’re missing is Alexia, right?”
“And she should feel free not to come at all,” Julie said. “I think we’re doing just fine without her trying to one-up me. There’s been enough of that today already, thank you very much."
“Do you really think that the ten of you alone are enough to defeat the great evil we are facing?" Krystina said. "You’re going to war, and when you go to war, you need an army.”
“Yeah, but we’re going to war against a bunch of short-skirted, pink-haired twits,” Bob said. “I’m not exactly quaking in my purple sailor boots.”
“I thought her sailor boots were orange,” Lauren whispered just loud enough for Special K to hear.
“They are, but she’s blonde, so …”
“You’re blonde too.”
Special K shrugged. “It’s a strange world.”
“As great as hired help can be, I don’t think my allowance is going to cover mercenary fees for more than one, maybe two assassins, tops. At least not with any sort of benefits package,” Mallory said. “So where are we supposed to find this army?”
Now it was Krystina’s turn to look pleased with herself. “Right outside the door.”
“Holy crap,” Niki cursed as she zig-zagged once more for the front door, yawning with annoyance. “This is the absolute last time I’m having any of you over here ever again.”
She opened the door, and wonder upon wonder, who would be standing there except all of her favorite people in the world?
“Timm? Bowlegged Man?? Captain Stewie?!!” Niki couldn’t stop grinning.
And some of her least favorite.
“Oh hey, Alexia, Jeff. Um, yeah, I guess you can come in too.”
It took several minutes for the senshi, Nutzi Tunz band members, and Superheroes from the 80s to find an assembly space. With all of the musical equipment the band insisted on toting around, the house was more than a little cramped, so they had to settle for the backyard.
“Hey Niki and Mal, remember when we sent Playmobile Boromir to his watery grave?” Valerie said as she stood near the small pond, cheerfully nostalgic for the days when they remade The Lord of the Rings on a shoestring budget and with a cast of five. “It feels like it was just last week.”
“In our current chronology, it was just last week,” Mallory said. “I’ve still got the ant bites to commemorate it.”
“Well Miss. Reneir, Miss. Champain, and others I didn’t have the pleasure of teaching last year … your talking cat tells us that you are superheroes,” Bowlegged Man (aka: Mr. McDoormat) said. He chuckled. “And I always thought the likelihood of any of you succeeding in life was smaller than the percentage of people who become U.S. State Senators!”
“Thanks again for that vote of confidence, sir,” Valerie said, still not sure if she should be offended.
“All year we’ve had hazy memories of an epic battle against possessed teachers and blood-thirsty singing pineapples, but we had no idea we were fighting alongside you, our favorite students. It wasn't until the cat interrupted our bi-weekly Superheroes from the 80s meeting this afternoon that our memories were fully restored," Captain Stewie said, shaking her disbelieving (but still level) head.
“Sometimes the truth can be hard to stomach,” Krystina agreed as she coughed up a hairball. “This bunch of short-skirted, high school misfits have managed to save the world twice already.”
"And they're doing a smashing good job at it too!" Key Key cried, thumping Julie on the shoulder with enthusiasm.
"Here, here!" Everyone cheered as Julie rubbed her now aching shoulder. Even RA managed a bitter smile.
Nervous Twitch Man gravely bowed his head to Julie. “The cat has summoned us and we are here to serve you once again, Sailor Moo. Live or die, we shall not fail.” His neck twitched nervously, but other than that he seemed genuine.
“Er, thanks Mr. Weather. It means a lot. Really.”
“I hate to start talking logistics, but how exactly are we going to get to the enemy spaceship?” Mallory said. “If we're going to catch them off-guard, it needs to be a sneak attack on their home base. But their home base is in outer space. I hope we're not seriously considering stealing a NASA space shuttle and flying it ourselves... Are we?”
“Done and done," Key Key said with a wink.
“You’re kidding, right?” Mallory said, hyperventilating a little. “Isn’t that a felony? There are police parked right outside running surveillance and I really can’t afford to have this on my permanent record! I’m trying to get into a good school so I can graduate with honors and get a good job and get married and buy a house andawhitepicketfenceand2.5kids. Myentirefutureisatstakehere!” She said all of this very fast.
“Mallory, dear, chill out,” Me said, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder (they still weren’t really on speaking terms). “We didn’t actually steal it. NASA has a space shuttle lending policy for famous pop singers.”
“And we got it at a mere fraction of the cost, on account of being way hotter than that guy from Backstreet Boys,” I said.
“N’Sync,” You corrected.
“Same difference,” I said. “I mean, he’s not a dog, but he doesn’t have anything on I or Me. Or even You.”
Key Key raised her hand to command silence. "I know that we can - and have - spent hours debating the relative hotness of other pop stars, but we really must be on our way," she said. She flashed a set of keys hooked together by an oversized rocket keychain. "I don't know the rules for double-parking space shuttles on residential streets in Loserville, but why chance the ticket? We've got a world to save."
Somewhat disbelieving, the senshi followed the band members and Superheroes from the 80s out the backyard and to the space shuttle parked quietly on the street outside.
The six passenger shuttle was a tight squeeze for the twenty warriors, but they made do. There weren't enough seats to go around so they settled for strapping themselves to whatever was handy while silently praying that exiting the Earth's atmosphere would be a smoother ride than commuting to school in Julie's Toyota.
After the senshi voted unanimously against letting Sailor Moo fly the space shuttle, Julie yelled shotgun and joined Key Key in the cockpit.
Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when Key Key safely navigated the shuttle from Niki's street and into outer space. A few minutes after breaking free of Earth's atmosphere and that pesky downer known as gravity, Key Key picked up a hand mic to make an announcement.
"Attention all passengers! The seat belt light is now off. Feel free to move about the cabin and to the restroom in the rear. We are currently cruising at speed of 17,500 miles per hour and expect to reach our destination - that big doughnut-shaped spaceship in orbit above planet Earth - in approximately twenty minutes. The invisibility shield that Timm so thoughtfully installed should help us to avoid detection unless the other sailors are actively looking for us. I'll make another announcement in the event of turbulence, asteroid fields, or laser death beams. That is all."
While the passengers in the back released themselves from their restraints and had a marvelous time floating around the shuttle and admiring the view outside, Julie stayed seated. She shifted uncomfortably, lost in thought.
"Hope you don't mind, but I'm switching us to auto pilot for a few minutes," Key said. "I need some time to strategize how we're going to get ourselves onto that spaceship without drawing any unwanted attention."
"Do you want me to take over the wheel?"
Julie sighed. As Key pulled out a notepad and furiously sketched out her planned maneuvers, Julie studied the other girl. There was something very familiar about Key Key... the way she held her mechanical pencil... the way she chewed her bottom lip while deep in thought... the way she carried herself with the dignity of someone who had left her freshman years far behind and now shouldered the burden of keeping her less competent teammates alive.
Who does she remind me of? Julie thought deeply, chewing on her bottom lip.
The door to the cockpit slid open and Alexia floated into view. "Hey mom," she said. Julie ignored her so she continued. "I was just thinking that maybe you can't activate your new talisman because your current transformative state is too weak to maintain that kind of power. I have a can of Sierra Mist of the Future with me. Only one. The effects are temporary and when they wear off you're going to experience one hell of a sugar crash, so you should save it for when you need it most."
Alexia handed Julie the can of Sierra Mist. "Thank you," Julie said, touched by her daughter's gesture.
Alexia opened her mouth to say more before she changed her mind. She chewed her bottom lip, deep in thought.
She chewed her bottom lip...
Julie's eyes widened in horror. "Holy f#%k!" Her eyes darted from Key to Alexia and back to Key. "Holy milk cow, you're my daughter!"
Alexia frowned. "Mom, we've been over this before-"
"Not you!" Julie exclaimed. "HER!" She jabbed a thumb at Key who swatted the thumb away without looking up. "Key, what do you know about your parents?"
Key Key was caught off guard. She dropped her notebook, hooked the mechanical pencil behind her ear, and turned to face Julie. "Not much," she said carefully. "I was sent to live with distant relatives when I was very young, with the understanding that I would be raised as a princess in secret. There were many threats against the royal family before the Republic was formed, and my birth parents wanted to keep me away from harm." Her eyes shifted out of focus, glazing over as she struggled to remember.
"I don't really know what my mother looked like... She was short, I think. And she smelled nice, like a river of Coke flowing through a field of peanuts on a sunny afternoon. She had a one-of-a-kind Platinum Nintendo 2064 that she said I could play one day when I was older, but the day never came." She sighed.
Key Key had barely finished reminiscing when Julie and Alexia yelled in synchronization,
"Holy milk cow, you're my daughter!"
"Holy milk cow, you're my sister!"
"You can't be serious!" Key Key exclaimed. She unhooked her seatbelt, leapt out of the pilot's seat, and hung suspended in mid-air. "But how... why.." she sputtered. "How can this be?"
Julie grimaced at the thought of having to explain the birds and the bees again (seven times for the younger senshi was more than enough). "Well, you see, when two people love each other very much-"
"Not that!" Key cried. "I meant all those weeks of being together on Earth. Why didn't we figure it out sooner?"
"Could it have been a spell of some kind?" Alexia said. "Julie can't be expected to know her future, but we really should have put the pieces together. But if it is a spell, it's wearing off now."
Key Key's hand flew to her mouth in horror. "Oh sh*t! I'm a horrendously awful person. I didn't just forget my mother, I forgot my sister!"
"Yeah, you forgot me," Alexia shrugged. "We established that already, but-"
"Not YOU! I forgot my other sister, the true heir to the Republic; the one who lost her mind in an assassination attempt on her life. You knew her as Crazy Girl, but I knew her as Ryan, my best friend and my soul mate." Her expression darkened. "I swore to find her and protect her, and those slutty short-skirted b*tches made me forget her!"
"Ewww, this is too much for me!" Julie wailed, flailing her arms. "I can't possibly have three daughters from the future! I would never willingly contribute to world overpopulation on a planet unable to sustain it." But then a thought far more horrifying than a generation of starving children came to Julie's mind and she gave a sputtering gasp. "Wait, does that mean I had sex with Gerg three times? Triple Ewww!"
"It was probably more than three times," Alexia surmised. "But it's also possible that you skanked it up with someone else and Gerg isn't really our father. If that makes you feel any better."
"It does. Thank you."
Key Key took a deep breath as she eased herself back into the pilot's seat, turned off auto pilot, and began flipping switches on the console. Her fingers moved with purpose and her mind was focused with a new clarity she hadn't felt before. She would save her sister at any cost, that was her new mission. "There's a lot we need to figure out, but we're out of time. The enemy base is straight ahead and we're coming in for a landing."
Everyone on the shuttle held their breath as Key Key steered to a quiet landing atop the doughnut-shaped ship. They were on the starboard side, just out of view of the bridge.
"Do you think they know we've landed?" Eva whispered, not daring to raise her voice.
With a belching hiss, a hatch on the side of the ship slid open no more than ten yards from where their shuttle had landed. In the shadowy opening, the senshi could make out two pairs of eyes staring blankly back at them. It wasn't much of a welcome, but it was clear that they had been expected.
"So much for our surprise attack," Key sighed. "What should we do now?"
As Sailor Moo, the decision was Julie's to make. She turned to face her army, the brave warriors who would follow her into battle and who would willingly give up their lives for her sake (more or less). It was likely that many would die today, and if the battles against Mr. Mister and Mistress 9 had set a precedent, the deaths would be extremely painful... and embarrassing.
Twenty lives were in Julie's hands and there was no going back now. "We accept their invitation. It's high time we meet the Emperor."
*BEEP BEEP BEEP* The tail lights of the space shuttle flashed as Key backed the shuttle's emergency exit against the opened hatch under the watchful eyes of the Emperor's lieutenants. When the two ships were safely locked together with an air-tight seal, Key turned the key in the ignition and the shuttle powered down and was still.
"I will stay with the ship to ensure we don't lose our only means of escape," Krystina announced as she curled up onto the dashboard. "This war is in your hands, Sailor Moo. Fight well!"
With a solemn Julie at the lead, the senshi, band members, and Superheros from the 80s walked two-by-two from their shuttle to the enemy's ship. Two pink-haired sailors stood at the head of twenty armed and silent, white-suited guards.
With a whispered command from the taller of the pink-haired girls (the one whose mouth wasn't bulging over with chewy Sprees), the guards split, eight taking up positions blocking access to the shuttle and ten forming ranks behind the enemy senshi. Two others marched ahead at a steady clip to alert their Mistress to the enemy's arrival.
"Welcome to the end," Sailor Pink said darkly. "We've been expecting you."
As Sailor PerkyFluffyBunny waved in greeting, two slimy Sprees slipped out of her protruding mouth and went clattering to the floor of the corridor.
Niki leaned over to whisper in Valerie's ear, "when we showdown with these b*tches, I claim the dumb one."
"Which one is the dumb one?" Valerie said, loud enough for everyone in the corridor to hear. There was a snicker from one of the guards, but as the guards' faces were hidden behind gleaming, white helmets, it was impossible to tell which one.
Sailor Pink clinched her fists until the urge to smack PerkyFluffyBunny had passed. After several minutes, she gestured to the patiently waiting Earth warriors. They followed silently, flanked on all sides by the remaining guards.
Wide-eyed, Key Key surveyed their surroundings, taking in as much as she could. This wasn't her first campaign in space, and she was determined that it wouldn't be her last. The windowless, high-ceilinged corridor they trooped through and all off-shoot corridors were curving steadily inward, following the shape of the doughnut. Even without knowing the ship's layout, she could sense they were moving towards the center and that would be where the Emperor was. But what of Ryan? If her sister was on the ship, where were they keeping her? I've got to save her, at any cost.
After a winding, ten minute walk, they reached the end of the corridor. Ahead of them on the other side of a twenty-foot steel door was a glass-entombed sphere, easily the length of a football field and five stories high. Vibrant beams of energy swirled around the inside wall of the sphere, obscuring the room that lay beyond while giving off the distinct impression of power... and danger. As they hadn't passed any obvious engine room on their walk, Key suspected that the swirling energy was what gave the ship power. But where, she wondered, did the energy come from?
"So this is the doughnut's creamy-filled center?" Julie sniffed. "I've seen better."
Sailor Pink punched a security code into a display near the door and with a heavy, steel groan, the colossal doors creaked open.
"What have they got in there, King Kong?" Valerie monotoned in homage to the great Spielberg film Jurassic Park as she followed Sailor Pink and PerkyFluffyBunny into the great room beyond.
Inside, the air of the sphere crackled with energy, making the senshi's hair stand on end (despite the copious amounts of hair gel and mousse). The enemy senshi and hundreds of guards flanked a carpeted walkway that snaked up to an immense, blood-red throne.
The Emperor, cloaked in a full-bodied black robe, hunched over in her throne, eagerly watching as the Earth senshi walked forward to meet their doom. Apart from the glowing, red eyes glaring from beneath her hood, all that was visible of the Emperor were the tips of her alligator-skinned Prada boots, sized 9 and 1/2.
At the foot of the stairs to the throne, Sailor Pink brought Sailor Moo's army to a halt. She bowed to the Emperor and pulled at Julie's arm, trying to drag her down into a submissive position. Julie slapped Pink's hand aside and puffed up to her full (but still rather minuscule) height and shouted up at the black-cloaked figure.
"So we meet at last, Emperor!" Julie shouted, full of bravado.
"MWHAHAHAHA," the Emperor laughed in reply, her voice echoing through the room and raising the hair on Julie's arms. "YOU PATHETIC FOOL. YOU CONFUSE THE END WITH THE BEGINNING."
"Don't try to confuse me with your cyclical words! We are here for WAR! Before the day is up, you and your followers will be banished from existence! Or worse - to Nakodish! If you wish to avoid death, I'd recommend you leave our galaxy now and never return!"
The Emperor laughed again, this time a girlish, high-pitched whinny. "YOU WANT ME TO LEAVE THE GALAXY NOW? WITH YOU AND YOUR LACKEYS STILL ON BOARD MY SHIP?"
Julie was caught off-guard. "Well no, tha-that's-that's not what I meant," she stuttered. "First you must allow us to safely disembark and return to our ship, and then you must-"
The Emperor's laughter drowned out the rest of what Sailor Moo had planned to say. Julie glowered.
"OH JULIE, YOU WERE ALWAYS SUCH A SIMPERING, SELF-ASSURED FOOL! I'VE MISSED OUR LITTLE LAUGHS."
The color drained from Sailor Moo's face. "How did you know my name was Julie?" Curse my flimsy disguise! Julie tried to make out the face obscured beneath the cloak, but all she could see was a deep, impenetrable darkness. "Who ARE you?"
"WHY JULIE, HOW COULD YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN ME?" The Emperor simpered in an annoying, New York accent, one that Julie hadn't heard in years. "DON'T YOU REMEMBER YOUR BEST FRIEND?"
Julie's eyes widened in shock as the Emperor pulled the hood from her face, spilling forth curly, brown hair, streaked with a band of white - clearly a highlight job gone terribly wrong. There was a dark scar running down her left cheek from her forehead to her chin. Her face was older than Julie remembered but unmistakable. It was the face of a friend, long-since forgotten.