The blond girl with the long pigtails raced down the sidewalk. She plunged around a corner, almost stumbled, then charged on towards her school with yet another anguished look at her watch.
Then, in one moment at the quantized edge of reality, a pebble turned under the girl's foot. She teetered in air for a moment then slammed into the pavement. Tears fountained as she sat and wailed.
On the Tokyo street a black cat slipped from an alley and looked around with a more-than-feline intelligence. For a long moment the cat stared in the general direction of the fallen girl, as if something was tickling at the edges of its senses. Then it turned and raced off, searching deeper into the city.
SEARCH FOR THE MOON PRINCESS
Episode One: Dreams
Amy paused at the door to her new homeroom. "I don't believe it," she said to the empty hallway in Juuban Junior High. She lifted her hand. There was actually a little tremor in it. "What am I scared of?"
Her mother had offered to drive her in on this first day. "I'll be fine," Amy had said quickly. The residency of a new doctor was hard enough without having a daughter at home needing her all the time. "I'll be walking there every other day," Amy had added.
Doctor Mizuno smiled. "Here is your lunch then. I hope you are very happy in this new school." Then she was off, hurrying to make her shift at the big hospital downtown.
For a moment Amy wanted to call out to her. For a moment she wanted to be a problem, and need her mother to take care of her. "I'm a big girl now," Amy told herself firmly. "I'm going to be a doctor too. And I'm going to make sure mother continues to have reason to be proud of me."
When the time came, Amy left the neat two-story house and walked briskly down the sidewalk. About her was a mix of wooden post-war residences, more modern buildings, a small shop or two, the quiet facade of a foreign embassy. Ahead of her the Tokyo Tower looked out benignly over the heart of the city.
April had come to Tokyo in a rosy dawn of cherry blossoms, banishing the lingering chill of March and heralding spring. The light blouse and pleated skirt of her new school's sailor suit felt eminently practical in this weather, and the books in her satchel made a comfortable weight.
It was even a comfort knowing there would be a lot of studying ahead as she made up for the three weeks she'd missed in the transfer. She'd need to find a study partner. Maybe they could go to Azabu Library after school, study together until Amy had to scurry downtown for the session at Crystal Academy.
She was passing a small park. Amy paused for a moment to take in the effect of the clouds of pink petals against the background of green leaves and grass and the clear blue of the sky. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment. Then she walked on, satchel swinging rhythmically against her back.
I and the new friends I'll make can picnic in that park, she thought. Visit the Inari shrine together on festival day. It would be much better at Juuban Junior High than at that stuffy little "Gifted" school. She should have no trouble making friends here. And Juuban had an excellent academic standing, too. With good grades there, and with the evenings at Crystal Academy to prepare for exams, she should have no trouble getting into medical school.
The grounds of the Junior High were quiet; classes were in session. But Amy stopped, again. There was something just slightly "off" about the picture. Was there an unexpected overcast creeping in? Was it just a little too quiet, without even the birds that filled the rest of the neighborhood?
Amy shook off the moment of odd apprehension and walked briskly on. She found her new homeroom without difficulty. From within she could hear the voice of the teacher. And paused once more. This time the wrongness she felt seemed to seep from the walls of the school itself. It was like a chill in the air, or the faintest whiff of mold and rot.
She forced a smile. "Don't be silly," she told herself. "I don't believe it. What am I scared of?" She knocked decisively at the door and went in.
Twenty-five faces turned towards her. For this moment they were a mere pattern of pale ovals on a checkerboard of white and black school uniforms. Amy knew what to do. She walked to the front of the class and stood quietly, hands clasped in front of her. She felt the eyes of the class on her. At the moment they held mild interest, perhaps a touch of curiosity. Nothing warmer.
"Miss Mizuno is transferring to us from the Albert Einstein School for the Gifted Youngster," the homeroom teacher told her class. "I want you all to give her a warm welcome."
"Welcome, Miss Mizuno," the class replied in a ragged chorus.
"And," the teacher held up her hand, "I want you to pay special attention to her. At her previous school Miss Mizuno scored in the 99th percentile across the All-Japan Practice Examinations. I think you all could learn something from her diligence and study habits." Amy winced inside. She wasn't sure this was any way to make friends at a new school.
"Yes, Miss Tanazaki," the class chorused, even less together this time. Amy thought she heard a sardonic note or two. The unfamiliar sensation in the pit of her stomach grew.
"Now, Amy, why don't you tell the class a little about yourself?"
"Um..." Amy was at a rare loss for words. She smiled, shyly.
"I came to Juuban because it is a good school," she said. Oh, wrong, wrong, she thought. I'm making myself look like some kind of nerd. "I'm not really the boring type who just likes to study," she said quickly. Heat came to her face. Oh, why did everything she said sound so stupid!
"I live at home with my mother," she said then. "I'm an only child," she added. This would be a good time to stop, she thought. She looked vainly at the teacher, hoping for permission to go to her seat now.
She didn't get that permission. Amy looked out again at the faces of the girls and boys who would be her classmates for the next three years. "Father is in America as part of an Arts Fellowship," she told them. "We moved to Azabu-Juuban two months ago, but I wasn't able to transfer until after the school year started."
She was sure she saw the lips of one boy move, shaping the word "Boring!" She noticed suddenly that several of the boys had their collars unbuttoned like comic-book toughs.
"I'm sure I'll like this school very much," she said, trying desperately to wrap things up. "Thank you for welcoming me to your class."
And, at last, Miss Tanazaki got the hint. She pointed out the new entry in the seating chart, showed Amy the locker she'd keep her P.E. supplies in, and allowed her to take her seat.
Amy sat very straight, her face still warm. She was beginning to think it was going to be a long three years.
The bell rang. Everyone except for those who would stay and clean the classroom grabbed belongings out of their desks and headed for the door. Amy hung back a little, letting the crowd surge through the hallways first.
Up ahead there was a scuffle. Amy heard a muffled exclamation, a student turned suddenly, and there was the sharp crack of a blow.
By the time she got there both fighters had vanished, but an eighth-grade girl was on the floor in a spill of fallen books and papers. Amy knelt by her. "Are you hurt?" She asked.
The student shook her head mutely. In her eyes Amy saw a look of fear and resignation that brought her heart to her throat. As if she knows she is and will continue to be a victim, Amy thought. What in the world is going on at this school? Her hands found the fallen books, restoring them to the girl's bag, then she helped her to her feet.
It wasn't just her imagination. There was definitely something wrong at Juuban Junior High.
"More roses, Darien? She must be quite a girl!"
The tall, handsome young man answered the flower-seller with a gesture that was half shrug, half wave. Why do I keep buying roses? he wondered. I guess I just like having them around.
He left the door of his apartment open, dropped the roses in a vase already prepared for them, and opened both windows wide. The curtains billowed past him in the cross-breeze.
Darien's eyes were thoughtful beneath the shock of black hair. Why don't I have a girl? he wondered. Am I holding back, am I subconsciously waiting for Her? The dreams were coming more frequently now. Is she even real? Darien wondered. And what is her connection to me? Does my dream girl hold the secrets of my past?
He could see her almost as clearly waking as sleeping now; the dream had come so often, and had been the same in every detail. The Princess in her long white dress, a silhouette before a great crescent moon. Half-turning, looking over her shoulder towards him with longing and love and an implication of lives long entwined.
"Find me, Darien," she said. "Find the Imperial Silver Crystal."
"I will," Darien said to the darkening city below his window. "I will."
Then he caught himself. With a sniff of amusement at the way his imagination kept running away with him Darien turned from the window. He pushed his door shut and went into the kitchen, and the homely light of an open refrigerator banished the shadows of moonlight.
Amy arrived at Crystal Academy five minutes early. There as a new student there, a quiet, short young man with brown hair. He's cute, Amy thought. There were lots of new students joining the cram school lately. They were expanding rapidly; already they were looking for a bigger building.
"Hello, Amy," Miss Ada greeted her. "Have you admired our recent flyers?"
She hadn't seen them before. Right at the top was her own picture. "Be like Amy," it said. "First place winner in the National Practice Exams." Below that, "Experience our new computer-assisted learning software. Free samples available!"
She was flattered, but it made her a little uncomfortable as well. That was starting to become a familiar sensation. The new boy had just finished signing in. Amy went up to him. "Hi," she said. "I'm Amy."
"I know," he said. "I'm Greg. I..." He stopped, and his eyes widened as he recognized her. He turned away quickly and crossed to the other side of the room. Amy's face burned again. She turned on her heel and went to her own desk.
Amy settled into her seat, booted up the computer, and flipped in the Crystal Academy study disk. Not that she was using it that much, though. Lately she'd realized that plain old pen and paper just felt better. Around her the class filled. Students found their chairs, booted their learning software, and fell into reverie before their monitors.
Each day I come here, everyone looks more tired, Amy thought. Drained. Aren't they sleeping enough? Her memory flashed to a girl at Juuban, a cute little thing with long blond pigtails, snoring her way through lunch.
Maybe there was something in the water. Her mother worked pediatrics, but Amy had overheard her saying something to a co-worker over the phone. Something about the rising number of fatigue cases. And then, Amy had read in the paper about "...overworked young office-ladies collapsing at their desks."
No, it wouldn't be the water. Amy's logical mind quickly compared the pattern of the water service area with the "incidents" she'd seen or heard of. There was no correlation.
Listen to me, Amy thought. Her pencil tapped against her teeth. I'm taking this seriously, aren't I? But the math didn't lie. Many small things, themselves too small to notice. But together they made a pattern.
"You are right, Amy." Miss Ada spoke almost in her ear.
Amy jumped. She saw she'd written the words on her pad; "There is a pattern here."
"The question is, Amy, do you really want to know more? You see," and Miss Ada smiled, "Crystal Academy is a part of the pattern. And you are a part of us."
The smile became more mocking. "Your picture is on our flyer. Your reputation is tied to ours. Is it in your interest to jeopardize that fine academic standing of yours?"
"Someone should know." Amy spoke almost without meaning to.
"And you are going to tell them? Amy, who is going to listen to a fourteen-year old girl? Oh, certainly, you can prove your point with logic and math. But only to those that can listen and follow, my young genius. Only to me and you."
"So Crystal Academy is responsible?" Amy asked warily.
Miss Ada's smiled widened. "As I said before, are you sure you want to know?"
Next -- Juuban is a school under siege by evil forces, but one young genius is about to fight back. Stay right there and I'll show you!
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Now I'm totally confused. What is "Sailor Moon," again?