"Polly?" Julie gasped again, refusing to believe that her ex-best friend could be this great, cloaked evil that sat before them now. Could Polly really be the one who has terrorized us for the better part of a season (and what feels like five or six years)?
"Wait, Julie had friends? Like before us?" Bob said with disbelief. "Weird, I always thought she was more of a loner everyone avoided."
"No Bob, that would be you," Valerie said.
The Emperor hissed at Bob who cowered a little. "ONCE UPON A TIME, JULIE HAD A FRIEND, YES. ONLY ONE."
Mallory raised her hand. "Excuse me, Polly... sir? If you're gearing up for a lengthy tale, do you think you could use your non-big-bad voice? My eardrums are starting to bleed from all the shouting."
"I will speak as I once spoke," Polly replied in her New York accent, making Mallory remember that there was something worse than bleeding eardrums.
New York accents.
"Once upon a time," Polly began again, "Julie had a friend, yes. Only one. But our friendship ended the fateful day that Julie ran over a talking cat."
"No, the other talking cat I hit with my car," Julie said, rolling her eyes.
"You may be aware that the day Julie hit Krystina was the same day she learned of her destiny as Sailor Moo, short-skirted champion of justice. But what you don't know is what happened next."
"After her successful defeat of Jeff, Evil, Evil, Jeff, Julie returned home, and that evening, she invited me over to watch her play video games. Julie had procured a rather remarkable gaming system called the Platinum Nintendo 2064. It was a Nintendo like none the world had ever seen, and she was very possessive of it."
"Some things never change," Alexia muttered.
"I was allowed to watch Julie play Nintendo with the understanding that I would never ask to play with her. But that night, I was overcome with desire and fury. I was sick of being her passive sidekick and I wanted in on the action. I asked Julie if I could play."
The senshi took a collective, ragged breath. They too had once asked Julie to allow them to play with the Platinum Nintendo 2064... and had suffered for it.
"I wasn't prepared for what happened next," Polly said as her eyes glazed over with memories. "In her rage, Julie picked up her Platinum Nintendo 2064 and struck me across the head with it. Repeatedly."
Key Key groaned as she shot Julie a dirty look. "You beat her because she wanted to play with you? Julie, that's horrible!"
Julie took a shrinking step back and didn't reply.
"The force of the blows caused some of my hair to turn white and left this scar," Polly said, tracing the cut down her face from forehead to chin.
"After the attack, I made it to the hospital, but I never made it home again. I was on my way to the police station to press assault charges when I was abducted by an alien spacecraft under the command of the last great Emperor. Rather than performing experiments or keeping me as a political prisoner, the Emperor saw I was a kindred spirit and set me free. The next three years I spent as an apprentice, learning all there was to know about galaxy conquering and Death Star building; and when the Emperor passed, I took his place."
The nostalgia passed and Polly once again turned her venomous gaze on Julie. "My first mission as Emperor was to return to Earth to seek my vengeance on you, Julie. Or should I say... Sailor Moo," she sneered.
"You know, I hate to say it, but you kind of deserve whatever you've got coming, Julie," Special K said. "Hitting Polly with your Nintendo was kind of a d*ck move."
"I concur," RA said. "Total d*ck move. Reeaaally sh*tty."
"Oh, COME ON!" Julie exclaimed. "I'm sorry about the Nintendo thing, Polly, I really am. I tried to apologize to you at the hospital, but you had already disappeared."
"A LIKELY STORY," Polly sniffed, slipping back into her big-bad voice. Mallory sighed with relief.
"Just because I made one little mistake three years ago doesn't give you the right to try to kill one of my (potentially illegitimate) daughters from the future!"
"YOU ASSUME THAT YOUR ONLY OFFENSES AGAINST ME WERE IN THE PAST. THAT IS INCORRECT. I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE, SAILOR MOO, AND YOU AND YOUR OFFSPRING HAVE TRIED TO THWART MY EFFORTS FOR GALACTIC DOMINATION AGAIN AND AGAIN. I CAME BACK IN TIME TO MAKE SURE THAT FUTURE IS ONE THAT NEVER COMES TO BE, BY PRESENTING YOU WITH A CHOICE."
Julie was dubious about any offer Polly might make, especially since it was clear she held the better deck. "What choice?" she said carefully.
One of Polly's slender, long-fingered hands beckoned Sailor Cranberry from the ranks of the enemy senshi. Cranberry climbed up to the throne to kneel before the Emperor. "YOUR CHOICE IS SIMPLE. YOU CAN DIE NOW OR YOU CAN SUBMIT YOUR LIFE TO ME AND JOIN THE RANKS AS ONE OF MY LOYAL FOLLOWERS." Polly clamped her hand around Cranberry's arm, holding it up for all to see. On her wrist shimmered a golden bracelet.
"Ohh, shiny!" Valerie said, making a move to go after the bracelet. Julie put out her hand, blocking 24601's path. She was sure that there was something sinister about the bracelet. It was more than just costume jewelry, it was a shackle with invisible chains. Cranberry and the others were enslaved, body and mind. And soul?
"IT'S A SMALL SACRIFICE, REALLY." Polly smiled, her thin lips curving up into a rictus grin. "ALL I DESIRE IS YOUR STAR SEEDS."
"Ew, that sounds pervy," Niki said, making a face.
Polly rolled her eyes. "STAR SEEDS ARE IN ALL OF YOU. THEY ARE THE ESSENCE OF LIFE."
"Okay, now you're just grossing me out."
"SILENCE, FOOL! OR THE CHOICE WILL BE MADE FOR YOU!"
"Don't give in to her, Sailor Moo!" Vanessa shouted defiantly. "It would be a pact with the devil!"
"A devil who wears Prada!" Eva agreed. "That's the worst kind."
Julie raised her chin and narrowed her eyes at the Emperor. "If what you say is true, then what's our incentive for giving in to you? If there's a future where we are at war, thwarting your schemes at every step along the way, then what's to lose? There's a future worth fighting for."
"YOU ASSUME THAT THE FUTURE IS A GOOD ONE. I HATE TO BREAK YOUR HEART, SAILOR MOO, BUT THE FUTURE ISN'T ALL SUNSHINE, RABBITS, AND RAINBOW SKITTLES."
"Mmm, Skittles," PerkyFluffyBunny and Sailor Tange said in unison.
"THE FUTURE AS I HAVE SEEN IT IS A BLEAK, MISERABLE PLACE WHERE HOPE GOES TO DIE." Without warning, the Emperor threw out her arms, her sinewy fingers reaching for Julie's vulnerable neck. Julie gasped as her throat closed up, locked in an invisible and unshakable death grip. The other senshi rushed to her aid as the storm troopers closed in, blocking their way and forming a tight ring around Julie.
"SEE WHAT I HAVE SEEN, SAILOR MOO! KNOW WHAT I KNOW!"
Julie fell to her knees. Her hands clawed futilely at her neck as her face turned purple from lack of oxygen. She could no longer hear her friends frantically calling out to her as they tried to push past the Emperor's guards. Julie's vision narrowed and clouded over until all she could see was Polly's triumphant smile.
And then she was falling, falling, falling into darkness.
"Mommy! Mommy!" a shrill voice called from a distance.
As Julie's eyes fluttered open, she could feel a pair of hands tugging on the hem of her skirt. The room came into focus and Julie saw that she was no longer in Polly's spaceship but passed out on the bed of a lavish room with high ceilings and plush, Victorian-era decor. She had never been in this room before, but she recognized it all the same. This was the master suite of the Moo Kingdom, the future home she shared with the Prince Who Likes Coke and Peanuts. Which would mean...
...that the annoying girl tugging on her skirt was, in fact, one of her daughters. Julie turned her bleary eyes to the curly-haired brunette who hovered over her. "Crazy Girl?"
The girl tossed rivers of hair over her shoulder and glowered. "Gee, thanks mom. Most people call me Ryan, but I'm glad my mother thinks it's appropriate to give her teenage daughter obnoxious nicknames. I'm not five anymore."
"So...you're not crazy?"
"Nope, that would be the booze talking. Try to sober up before heading downstairs, will you? I don't want you to embarrass me at my party." With that, Ryan turned on her heels and flounced out the door of the suite, the rivers of hair flowing softly behind her.
Julie sat up in bed and rubbed her aching temples as Polly's last words came pouring back. See what I have seen, Sailor Moo! Know what I know! So, the Emperor had sent her to the future, but it was the future before her daughter Crazy Girl was made crazy, which means the Emperor had not yet attacked the Moo Kingdom. Julie rubbed her temples with more vigor. Is Key Key around or is she still in hiding, having never known her mother? Am I still married to the Prince? Is Alexia still a total tool?
Julie groaned as her headache worsened. Trying to keep track of all of the characters and time lines and plot holes was maddening. She caught sight of a bottle of scotch on the dresser. A drink or six would probably make the headache go away... "Ah damn," Julie muttered to herself. "My future self really is an alcoholic. Not that you can blame me, right?"
Resisting the urge to drink herself into a stupor, Julie padded slowly over to the door to make her way to whatever was waiting for her downstairs.
As Julie descended the spiral staircase overlooking a grand ballroom, she could see dozens of elegantly dressed people milling about below. "Here goes," she breathed as she stepped out onto the marble floor and headed straight for the woman ahead.
"Hi Vanessa," Julie said upon her approach, "you look great". It was true. Vanessa was wearing a flattering Chinese-style, high-collared dress and her hair was cut short and spiked much as Julie remembered. It was only the dark circles under her eyes and the frown lines on the sides of her mouth that betrayed the years that had passed.
Vanessa forced a smile. "Hi Julie, how have you been?"
"Confused, but okay," Julie replied. She didn't want to reveal that she was from the past unless it was absolutely necessary. It was better to play this cool. "So... how many years has it been since we last saw each other?"
"About ten. But you poke me every now and then on Facebook."
"Okay, so I wasn't so great about keeping in touch over the years... Um, what's new? You married with kids?"
"Sure am." Vanessa pointed to five children of various ages who sat together at a table in the corner, noisily munching on finger foods. "Those are all mine."
"Five kids in ten years? Wow, that's something." There was movement at the table and Julie did a double-take, noticing for the first time the delicately pointed cat ears and striped tails of each child. "Whoa, your kids are furries? What happened there?"
Vanessa's smile trembled. "Don't you remember? The Messiah that we were promised never awoken. Lisa showed potential, but she never came into her full power, and so Malcolm never transformed back into his human state. We've tried to make the human-cat thing work, but it's been difficult." Her eyes welled up with tears that spilled out across her cheeks. "We're considering... divorce."
"Oh Vanessa, I'm so sorry to hear that," Julie said sincerely as she drew the taller, sobbing girl into a hug. "There, there. There, there."
Julie pulled away from consoling Vanessa and looked up. "Wow, Valerie, hi!" she exclaimed as she wrapped her in a hug, overcome with genuine affection. "I never thought I'd miss you ex-ex-freshmen so much, but I guess after ten years, anything is possible."
"Whoa there!" Valerie exclaimed as she pulled away, shooting Julie a peculiar look. "What's up with you?"
"Sorry, it's been a really long day. What's new with you?"
"In brief, I married Matthew - you remember him, the Architect of the Matrix of Time? Yeah, long story. We don't have kids, but that's cool since I never liked the filthy little disease ridden whiners anyway. I spend most of my time bringing home the bacon since all my hubby does is sit around watching TV."
"What to do you?
"I'm a world-renowned chef."
"Oh, you cook? And you're famous for it?"
"I do cook, but not well. I'm world-renowned for how terrible I am. I have my own reality series on Bravo and everything - Valerie's Kitchen Nightmares, every Thursday at 10pm/9 central. Reality television isn't exactly my dream job, but a girl's gotta eat.... Just not the food that I cook."
"Huh," Julie said, trying to process it all. "That's... yeah, wow."
"Julie, you made it down!" Mallory cried cheerfully as she rushed over with a drink in one hand and a plate of hors d'oeuvres in the other. "I love what you've done with the place," she said, gesturing to the silver lights strung across the ceiling that bathed the room in a soft, twinkling glow. "This is a great coming out party for Ryan!"
Julie's eyes widened. "Ryan's a lesbian? Not that I have a problem with that," she amended quickly. Maybe it's because I named her Ryan...
Mallory choked on her Root Beer. "Ryan's not coming out of the closet, she's coming out to society. She's a debutante."
"Oh, no wonder she's annoying."
"I guess we're playing the awkward it's-been-ten-years-what's-new game?" Mallory said. "I'll make it easy for you: husband, 2.5 kids, white picket fence, insufferable boss, student loans, mortgage payments... what did I miss? Oh yeah, and Niki's in a wheelchair."
Mallory nodded towards the girl entering the ballroom. Niki was indeed wheel-chair bound and her extraordinary long hair flowed around her like a black river. It was indeed a depressing site. As Niki wheeled over, her long hair got caught in the spokes of the wheels. "Argh, I hate when this happens! Ow...Ow...Ow..." Niki grimaced as she wheeled to a stop next to Mallory. "Scissors? Anyone?"
"I have a pair," Vanessa said. "I still cut my own hair and I've started carrying a pair for the kids. It's unbelievable how much grooming they require." She handed the scissors to Niki who proceeded to cut herself free of the wheels, loping off a good six inches of hair which settled to the ground, a dried up tributary of the great hair river.
"Why are you in a wheelchair, Niki?" Julie said, unsure of how to broach the subject more delicately. "Were you in a terrible accident?"
"Nah, I just got tired of walking. I mean, what's the point of it all?" Niki grinned. "And now if I fall asleep in the middle of the day, I don't have to worry as much about concussions."
"It's uncanny how much the long hair makes her look like Mistress 13, isn't it?" Mallory said. "In fact, when Lisa and Bob returned from a month long trip around the world, they almost killed Niki, thinking she was actually Mistress 13 herself."
"It's the truth. I had to issue a restraining order against them." Niki gestured to the blonde and blue-haired girls standing at the far side of the ballroom. They waved to the group but didn't move any closer. "They're not allowed within 50 yards of my chair or else I get to beat them with whatever's conveniently located. Court ordered."
"The gang's all here, ne?" Eva smiled as she joined the growing group, her slinky, velvet gown swishing around her ankles.
"Eva's a very successful fashion designer now," Valerie explained as she swung her arm around Eva in greeting. "Isn't it funny how ten years later, we're all married with kids and very successful in completely random but still very glamorous careers? You just can't make this sh*t up! And to think Mr. McDoormat always said we'd never amount to anything!"
"Fashion, huh?" Julie smiled at Eva. "Whatever happened to your door-watching gig?"
Eva's expression darkened. "I'd rather not discuss my private life, if you don't mind."
"Fair enough," Julie said, somewhat miffed. Even though everyone seemed happy at outward appearances, there was a lot of bitterness and regret hovering just beneath the surface, sucking all of the joy out of their reunion. Clearly a change of topic was in order. "Where's Special K? She was invited, right?"
As if on cue, Special K shuffled over to the group. She was dressed in nothing special; her hair was brushed neatly, but also nothing special was done with it. Her eyes were red as if she had been crying for years, and it also appeared as if she hadn't slept for that long.
"Damn, what's wrong with her?" Julie whispered to the others.
"Up until about three months ago she was a successful art gallery owner in New York," Mallory whispered back. "But then it came out that she hadn't actually painted any of the art herself and was only taking credit for works by some of the world's most famous artists. Van Gogh, Monet, O'Keefe, even Degas. She's being sued by all of their estates; it's really horrible."
"I'm not surprised at all," Valerie sniffed. "She once told me she had painted my Starry Night credit card. Lying cheat!"
Special K managed a brave smile as she embraced Julie. "Judging by all the whispering, I'm guessing they've filled you in on my unfortunate situation?" She sighed. "To think, with all of the terrible things I did in my youth... pirating music, TPing houses, trying to kill you... it's going to be intellectual property theft that gets me in the end. The prosecution says I could be looking at ten to twenty years, with no chance of parole.
"I'm really sorry about that, Special K."
"It's Kristina now. I went back to my old name when the Cat died."
Julie's eyes widened. "Krystina died?!!"
Kristina gave her a funny look. "Well yeah, you posted about it on Facebook last month. She was eighteen years old. I guess even talking cats have gotta kick the bucket at some point, right?"
"I guess so..." Julie fell silent as she mourned the loss of her furry cat-shaped mentor. But it was more than Krystina she mourned. She had been in the future for all of an hour and already Julie yearned for the days of yore when she and her friends were younger and happier. Maybe the Emperor was right. Maybe the future isn't worth fighting for.
Julie was shaken from her reverie when Ryan skipped over to the group, grabbing various arms in an effort to move all of Julie's friends to a long table brimming with gifts. "C'mon, old people! It's time to open my presents!"
At the table, Ryan's greedy fingers fluttered along the tops of the packages before settling on a large, rectangular box. "This one first!" She tore the wrapping paper away to reveal... "A lava lamp?" Her face fell. "How very retro."
The gift was pretty lame, but if there's one thing Julie had learned as a parent it was how to lie through her teeth. "I think it's awesome! Let's plug it in!"
"There's no outlet in the ballroom," Ryan said. "The closest one is in the kitchen just behind the stove."
"Let's all go!" Niki said as she repositioned her chair to face the kitchen door and started wheeling towards it. She had almost made it when her river of hair got tangled on the rear wheel hub. "Aw hell, here we go again. Ow...Ow...Ow..."
Ryan plugged the lamp into the outlet behind the stove and settled it on the front burner which was as far as the cord could stretch. The senshi and the other party goers crowded around to watch the light show. After a minute, the lamp began to glow a deep, golden color. Bands of light swirled around inside the glass dome, moving faster and faster as the lamp warmed up.
The senshi were enthralled. "It's gorgeous!" Vanessa breathed. The others murmured their agreement.
There was something mesmerizing about the vibrant bands of energy that swirled in the lamp, humming with power. Something mesmerizing... and familiar. Julie closed her eyes.
Vibrant beams of energy swirled around the inside wall of the sphere, obscuring the room that lay beyond... Inside, the air of the sphere crackled with energy... hundreds of guards flanked a carpeted walkway that snaked up to an immense, blood-red throne.
I've seen this before! Julie's eyes snapped open. Too late she saw that the stove burner was on, heating the lamp from beneath and melting the plastic base. Too late she saw the hairline fracture snake up the side of the dome as the lamp began to crack under the weight of the pressure building inside. The energy swirled so fast it was blindingly white.
There was no time to move, no time to warn the others. They were all in the line of fire, but Julie knew it was Ryan who was the true target of the assassination attempt. At last, the Emperor would have what she wanted all along. The princess would be dead.
"Oh sh*t!" Julie cried as the lamp exploded, sending shards of glass and bolts of electrical energy flying in all directions.
And then she was falling, falling, falling into darkness.
"RYAN!" Julie screamed as she came to. She was lying on the carpeted walkway in the Emperor's throne room, surrounded by her friends and a ring of guards as Polly looked on from above, her face an expressionless mask.
"What happened, Sailor Moo?" Key Key said, shaken by the fear and desperation in Julie's voice. "Is my sister okay?"
Julie climbed slowly to her feet, her gaze fixed on the Emperor. "You killed her... You killed them all."
"THE FUTURE IS A CRUEL ONE, IS IT NOT? THERE'S SO MUCH BITTERNESS AND SO MANY REGRETS. YOUR FRIENDS ARE STRUGGLING WITH FAILED CAREERS AND BROKEN HOMES, BUT YOU ARE INDIFFERENT TO THEIR PAIN. YOU ARE SO CONSUMED BY YOUR OWN MISERABLE, PETTY EXISTENCE THAT YOU CAN'T EVEN KEEP YOUR OWN DAUGHTER SAFE FROM HARM!"
Julie hung her head in shame.
"I OFFER YOU A CHOICE, SAILOR MOO. END THIS NOW. SUBMIT YOUR LIFE TO ME AND THE LIVES OF YOUR FOLLOWERS, AND THAT FUTURE WILL NEVER BE. UNDER MY COMMAND, YOU WILL CONQUER WORLDS, BRINGING ENTIRE CIVILIZATIONS TO THEIR KNEES. THE ONES YOU LOVE WOULD BE SAFE IN MY CARE. ALL I ASK IS YOUR STAR SEEDS."
The offer was tempting, that was one thing Julie couldn't deny. If she gave in to the Emperor, there would be no more deaths on her conscience, eating her up inside.
She looked at her friends, scanning the faces of the brave warriors who had already pledged their lives to Sailor Moo. The Superheroes from the 80s: they were the very best teachers Loserville had to offer and so much more... Nutzi Tunz: the talented musical group led by her headstrong and capable daughter... Special K and RA: once enemies and now allies... The ex-ex-freshmen: her beloved sidekicks and most loyal friends... And Lisa: the freshman and would-be Messiah who had never had the chance to prove herself.
"That's it!" Julie exclaimed as a resurgence of hope flooded through her. She rushed to her friends. "In the vision Polly showed me, Vanessa said the true Messiah had never awoken. If Lisa comes to power, we can change that! We can make a new future that is everything we had always dreamed!"
"YEAHHH!" Sailor Moo's army cheered, impassioned by her speech.
Julie spun on her heels and spit a wad of phlegm at the Emperor, hitting her squarely on her alligator-skinned Prada boots, sized 9 and 1/2. "It's on, b*tch!"
"GUARDS!!!" Polly shrieked, calling her storm troopers into action as Julie and her friends formed a quick huddle.
"What are we going to do, Sailor Moo?" Captain Stewie said.
"Superheroes and Jeff, I need you to take care of the storm troopers, do it now!" The Superheroes from the 80s nodded their understanding and rushed off to confront the surge of white-suited guards with Captain Stewie in the lead.
"Key, take the band and find Ryan if she's on the ship! I think this swirling energy is the source of Polly's power; see if you can find a way to turn it off.
"We will not fail you, Sailor Moo!" Key Key assured her mother before signaling her band members to follow. They made a run for the corridor that led to the rest of the ship, successfully maneuvering past the storm troopers who were battling with the Superheroes.
"Bob, Special K, RA, I need you to take Lisa somewhere safe. You woke her once, Bob, and we need you to try again. You must awaken the Messiah inside of her!"
"That sounds pervy," Niki said, earning a smack in the head from Bob.
As Special K took her hand to lead her away, Lisa's wide eyes found Julie's face. "Sailor Moo, what if... what if I fail?"
"You have to do your best, Sailor Meow. You may be our only hope." Julie turned to the seven warriors who remained. "Sailor Senshi, I need the rest of you to take out those short-skirted b*tches. I'm going after the Emperor. She is my burden to bear."
The senshi nodded in synchronization and put their hands together in the middle of the huddle.