The Heart of Darkness
The small cell stank of antiseptic steel and ammonia. He knew it was a small cell, somehow, even though he was strapped to a chair, immobile and blindfolded. Something about the heaviness of the atmosphere told him he was cut off, surrounded, boxed in. Either that, or it was the blood pounding in his ears.
He knew it hadn't been that long since he had been captured, but already, seconds had blurred into minutes and perhaps hours. Time and space had ceased to have meaning to him here. He was tense, yet calm... allowing his mind to relax and slow down, become still, placid... quiet and dormant.
"You will tell me what I want to know." The words were an electric shock to his soul, jerking it to wakefulness. They were soft and feminine, yet cold and hard. The blast of soft, cool breath against his ear shocked and excited him. Suddenly, cold, light fingers brushed against his cheek.
"Tell me," the voice whispered in a low, seductive moan that thrilled his senses as the fingers touched him in time to the words. His throat ran dry, and when he replied, the sounds were husky and hoarse.
"Go to hell, bitch," he spat confidently.
The seductive voice that had been baiting him suddenly let out a piercing screech of primal range, and the fingers which had stroked against his cheek flew to his neck, tensed, grabbed and jerked sideways, snapping his neck like a brittle twig.
He didn't even feel the kick that sent his body to the floor, or feel the pain of his pure heart exploding out from his body. It was all he could do to blink once at the sight of her consuming the glistening crystal before the end came.
There, in a forgotten dark corner of an empire long thought dead, Meioh Kenji breathed his last raggedy breath.
"That's great, X-chan," Minako said dimly, stepping out behind him and taking a long, hard look at the scorched, blood-red sky, and then down at the ashen-grey skyline looming in the far distance, lines of dull grey-black aircars crisscrossing the skies like ants marching in the air. "Let's go now, you've got your reading."
"Eh?" Xadium asked, looking at his wife curiously. "We've never been to this period in history before. Aren't you the least bit curious about what goes on here? This is your future, the legacy of the human race!" He gestured broadly at the city around him and smiled.
"It smells like rotten eggs," Minako replied dryly, wrinkling her nose and looking around for the source of the stench.
"That would be the excessive sulfur content of the atmosphere," Xadium said confidently. "Centuries upon centuries of industrial waste and excess have done that to air-- and turned the sky that lovely shade of red."
Minako bit back a comment about the sky looking like it was bleeding. She looked at her husband and smiled a bit. She had not seen the Time Lord seem this confident or self-assured in many years. Ever since he'd moved in with the other senshi, he had seemed insecure, weak... out of place in a home filled with people who used magical powers and attacks like others used tools. But now, here, on the edge of space and time, with no one but her to support him, he seemed that much more... alive and aware, as if finally back in his element. For a moment Minako wondered if, in accepting him into her life and marrying him, if she had not done something wrong, akin to caging a beautiful bird just to hear it sing, and forever clipping its wings in the process.
"Look, it's a newspaper!" Xadium said with almost child-like glee. "Let's go see!" He looked into her eyes and held his gaze there, seeking her permission and approval. As Minako realized that he was holding himself in check for her, that he would value her opinion even higher than his own normal scientific curiousity, she couldn't help but smile. The fact that he gave her that much *respect* never ceased to fill her with joy and awe. Being the center of someone's world-- it was no small thing. How could she let that down?
"Hai," she said with a smile, putting aside her distaste for the environment and nodding. There was just something about this grim picture of the human future that made her stomach turn. As if all the battles she had fought-- would fight... would be for nothing more than the right for humanity to become an overly mechanized, soulless machine. If she didn't so fervently believe in the value of life and justice, this glimpse of the future might have convinced her to give up fighting forever.
Xadium picked up a flimsy plastic sheet from the ground, eyes running over the glyphs which were barely recognizable as English characters.
"Heh, an almost retrograde devolution to Phoenician," Xadium muttered as he regarded the letters before reading. The TARDIS' low-level telepathic field allowed he and Minako to read, speak and hear in perfect synch with those around them.
"What does it say, Itoshi?" Minako asked.
Beloved, Xadium translated. He paused for a moment. When had she started calling him that? Perhaps seeing the plains of death on the last world they had visited had changed her somehow. Coming face-to-face with the charred, bloodied corpses that had been all that remained of the vibrant, happy town they had come to had humbled them both and given them a new appreciation for the shortness and value of life.
Xadium turned to regard Minako, but before he could say anything, he was cut off by the sound of someone running towards him at high speed.
"You've got to hide me," a scared female voice said from somewhere in the distance, panic soaking her every word. "You mustn't let them find me!"
"Ara?" Minako asked in confusion as the owner of the voice barreled towards them at high speed, her footsteps moist and wet thocks against the asphalt ground. Her figure burst though the omnipresent steam mist which seemed to soak the ground everywhere.
Xadium was the first to catch a glimpse of the girl's face, but it was strange and unfamiliar. The only thing he recognized was the look of raw fear etched across it.
"Chibi-Chibi-chan?!" Minako asked in shock a second later.
"You know her?" Xadium asked in surprise as Minako ran to the girl and hugged her.
"Let go of me!!" Chibi-Chibi screamed, squirming and trying to break free of Minako's grip, her fear in total control.
"She's not attacking you," Xadium snapped, irritated that someone would think that of Minako.
"X-chan!" Minako hissed, shooting her husband a displeased look. "She's terrified." Running her hands through the girl's red hair, she tried to make soothing and calming sounds, much in the way one would soothe a scared puppy, or kitten.
"Whoever you are," the young girl-- who looked to be about 8-10 years old-- said, finally calming down, "You've got to keep her from finding me."
"Her?" Xadium asked, all traces of irritation gone, his ire replaced with genuine curiosity. She certainly seemed erudite for an 8-10 year old; then again, literacy in the future was probably gained at a much younger age-- but if *Minako* knew her, then it was likely the "child" was in fact much, much older than she appeared.
"Her who?" Minako asked softly, doing her best to be as non-threatening as possible. Xadium smiled as he saw the little girl visibly relax. For all her tomboyish roughness, there was a soft maternal delicacy about Minako at times that was wonderful to behold.
"That woman!" Chibi-chibi exclaimed. "You've got to protect me from Sakura Xadium Aino!"
At hearing their future daughter's name, both Xadium and Minako's blood ran cold. A million questions sprang into their minds, but they had time to ponder none of them, as the girl pulled them down an alleyway and away from the glowing safety of the TARDIS.
"Where are you taking us?" Xadium asked as he mentally began trying to memorize the route back to the TARDIS, a task made difficult by the bland sameness of the world they found themselves in. All the streets and alleys looked alike, and all were filled with the same burning steam.
"I... I don't know..." Chibi-chibi finally said, stopping and pausing to breathe, her breath coming in haggard rasps. "I just know I can't let her find me."
As several robed figures scattered from the sight of the Time Lady in her crimson fury, two more figures leapt into sight, blocking their path. Both wore the fuku of Planetary Sailor Soldiers-- one a gleaming pearlescent white that reflected eerily in the night, the other a garish teal that cut against the blood red sky like a neon sign.
"CATCLAW SLASH!" the first girl, garbed in white, yelled, her golden feline eyes narrowing as she unleased five silver crescents of razor-sharp light at the terrified beings before her.
"TSUNAMI THUNDER!" the second girl growled, sending a tunnel of supercompressed water at them as well. The two attacks tore into the flesh and bone of their targets, rending them apart and leaving nothing but steaming piles of pus and boiling, bloodied flesh.
"Press on," Sakura commanded. "Bring her to me now!"
The Senshi bowed and leapt into the shadows.
"Sakura," Xadium muttered in annoyance. He knew her best as a fun-loving, somewhat irreverent teenager-like woman who was easily his intellectual equal. She had made some mistakes in her life, but to think that she could have become so cold and heartless as to strike fear into the heart of a small young woman--" He frowned. "All right, let's get you someplace safe."
Using his sonic screwdriver, Xadium opened up a warehouse door and slid it aside, ushering Minako and Chibi-Chibi in before locking the door and applying a new security code to the computerized lock.
His hearts skipped a beat as he felt a familiar ripple of power behind him. Minako had transformed. They had been together so long, become so close, that he could feel the change in her physical state even without looking. It was unscientific, he knew, but he could swear he felt the freshness and energy of her powerful aura as she drew near him.
Without saying a word, Venus pointed at the edges of the door, firing a beam of golden light from her fingertips, melting and fusing the door into a solid slab of metal, one with the walls that surrounded it.
"That light..." Chibi-chibi said in horror. "That's... her power!" Shrinking back, Chibi-chibi looked upon Sailor Venus with dread terror, heart beating rapidly as she realized she was locked in here with her now. She looked around for places to run.
"She's my daughter..." Venus said slowly. "Don't you remember me, Chibi-chibi-chan?"
"Your daughter?" Chibi-chibi's blood froze. She didn't know what to do!
"Don't worry," Venus said as softly and quietly as she could, her ability to sense emotions overwhelming her as she almost drowned in the little girl's fear. "If it comes down to it... to protect you... I'll fight my own daughter."
Venus looked to her husband, seeing the anguish in his brown eyes. She wanted to tell him it wouldn't come down to that, but if Sakura was anything like her, there was no way this could end without a painful family reunion.
"Right," Xadium said slowly, his eyes hooding as he pondered the logistics of this. Sakura was a Time Lady from a Gallifrey more advanced than his own. She could be a formidable opponent indeed.
"What does she want of you?" Xadium asked Chibi-chibi as he began to work with some of the materials in the warehouse, building something.
"X-chan, this warehouse is secure," Venus said firmly. "But from what I can see there's no escape routes open to us. If it comes down to a conflict, we'll be boxed in."
"That's what this is for," Xadium said, nodding to the parabolic dish he was slowly putting together, calculating the equations that governed its curvature in his head.
"Chaos is here, now, in the Imperium," Chibi-Chibi said slowly, as if trying to hold her thoughts together. "His agent walks among us, spreading her corruption through the senshi and the knight guard. All those who are pure are being purged." She lowered her head and looked to the ground, features obscured by her bright red bangs. "They want me."
"We'll protect you," Venus said firmly. "No matter what."
Xadium said nothing, pushing himself to focus on his work. His hearts were breaking, of course. He loved Sakura dearly. Even when she had made stupid mistakes, blunders that he himself had found incomprehensible and mortifying, he had still loved her. To him she represented the bright hope for the future, the best of himself and Minako, moving forward and doing both their names and legacies proud. To think that she had fallen...
Tears began to fill the Time Lord's eyes, and he was forced to ask Venus to aid him in holding the machine he was building together.
Venus aided him, inwardly surprised that she was able to hold back her grief like she was. To fight Sakura... to even possibly ki... she couldn't finish the thought.
"Let me see," Sakura said coldly, pushing Mau aside roughly, and tapping the pad experimentally. For a moment-- only a moment-- her features registered stunned shock. "Temporal logarithms." She hadn't seen those since her time at the Academy, on Gallifrey. What the hell was going on here?
"All seams are fused," Sailor Poseidon reported. "Whoever they are, they cut off all inflow of oxygen to the warehouse. The idiots will asphyxiate."
"That just means they've chosen this as a last stand, Oki-chan," Sailor Mau said confidently. "If we break into that box, we'll be opening hell in a handbasket."
"Bah," Oki Kaioh / Poseidon replied, tossing her Aquamarine hair in a display of condescension much like that of her mother. "Whoever they are, they are acting like scared rats. Scared rats make mistakes, Tomoe-san."
"You wanna talk about rats, I'm the expert," Sailor Mau replied.
"Cut the chatter," Sakura replied, her tone like ice. She nodded to the roof of the building, indicating that Mau should get up there. The felid senshi leap up easily, crouching on the ceiling.
Nodding to the side, Sakura silently indicated that Poseidon should step aside and out of the line of fire.
Leaning over to the pad, Sakura typed in a simple computer program that simulated the action of something trying trial-and-error brute force cryptological attacks against the lock.
"Koibito, get away from the door," Venus said darkly, indicating that Xadium should get back behind her. He looked at her and laughed.
"No one could ever crack that code, not in this millennium, anyway." The Time Lord smiled at his wife. But the cold gaze he got in return chilled him to the bone.
"Baka," she snapped quietly. "Don't you think they would have figured that out by now? Who in their right mind would keep trying?" She again motioned for Xadium to move aside.
"Sakura..." Xadium muttered. "But even she would take too long..."
Venus sighed and ran forward, pushing her husband out of the way just as the area he had been crouched by exploded into shards of tritanium, slashed to bits by Sakura's crysteel blade.
Chibi-Chibi panicked and ran behind a specially reinforced box Xadium had prepared for her as a shield.
Without waiting, Sakura fired a crescent beam from her fingertips, not even bothering to transform. The golden light lashed into the cavernous warehouse, and then instantly tore into her shoulder, rupturing and cauterizing her shoulder instantly. With a scream, she dropped to her knees.
Cursing in Gallifreyan, she forced herself to bite back the pain and take a clear look at her surroundings. There was a damned parabolic deflector dish right in her line of sight. Someone had anticipated she'd go in guns blazing. Clever. But she had other tricks up her sleeve.
"NOW!" she yelled, as Sailor Mau tore through the roof and landed in the center of the room, hunched down and feral, her golden eyes reflecting in the darkness.
The side wall exploded, and Sailor Poseidon strode in confidently, looking around for her target.
"Find the girl," Sakura snapped, as she forced herself to her feet, using her blade as an impromptu cane and wincing, her right arm almost totally useless. She took in her surroundings, trying to see where the enemy was, and more importantly, where Chibi-Chibi was. Stepping forward, she staggered forward and fell, still badly weakened from being hit by her own attack.
Hitting the ground with a thud, Sakura was momentarily stunned, and unable to move. As she sucked in her breath and tried to push herself up, the screaming began.
Mau's screaming was loudest, her throat splitting as her pure heart exploded from her chest, it's red flight flashing for a moment in an almost strobe-like fashion before being swallowed by the darkness. Her body hit the ground with a slick liquid thud.
Poseidon let out a ragged, hoarse cry as her back broke, snapped over the knee of an unknown foe, her heart similarly blazing forth for an instant before it too was swallowed.
"Kimi... Oki..." Sakura wheezed, too weak to move, but trying to force herself anyway. She froze as she felt the stench of death crawling nearer to her, its cold breath tickling her senses. It was happening again! Just like with Kenji!
Sakura felt salty tears fill her eyes. She had done everything she could have done to try and avenge him and the countless other victims of the Tairon Overfiend... letting her rage and hatred for the bitch that had killed them drive her forward to this point-- and now it was right before her, and there was nothing she could do! After all her years, all experiences and adventures, she was going to die here and now... useless!
"No," a voice said confidently from the darkness, as a tall, lean, svelte figure stepped out of the darkness, her curves dangerous and deadly. Her crystal blue eyes glinted in the light.
"Oh my god..." Sakura exhaled as she realized who it was.
"ENOUGH!" A fully grown Chibi-chibi screamed, her blue eyes flashing in rage, spinning around and unfurling a huge white staff, one end of which was tipped with a blazing heart. "ENOUGH OF THIS!" She aimed the staff at the ethereal presence, and boiled it out of existence with a thought. Other creatures, silent and watching, wisely receded into the ether, rather than draw attention to themselves and face a similar fate. Plans ould have to be revived. The Tairon Masters would not be denied.
"Thank Rassilon," Sakura exhaled. "You finally stopped running from your destiny..." She smiled and looked up at the girl she had sworn to protect and nurture until she could be old enough to accept the mantle of her power.
"Yes," Chibi-Chibi said with a smile, reaching her hand out and healing Sakura with a touch. She reached out to the side and healed Venus, who had been paralyzed when several tritanium shards had lodged in her back as she had crouched over her husband to protect him from the explosion.
Only then did Sakura realize who the original troublemakers had been. She smiled as she saw her mother and father embrace, their tears for each other's safety flowing freely.
"What of them?" Sakura asked, nodding to the dead bodies of her friends, her second family, most of the second generation of Senshi.
"Their souls have been lost to void," Chibi-Chibi said sadly. "With their hearts destroyed, they cannot be reborn as the people they were. Their replacements will start from zero."
"Replacements." The word was bitter in Sakura's mouth. Like cogs in an endless machine, churning out Senshi as the law of conservation of matter and energy demanded it.
"I shall avenge them," Chibi-Chibi said with a beautiful smile, as she transformed her staff into a gleaming sword. "I shall carve the heart of Chaos from the galaxy... forever."
Before Sakura could say anything, Chibi-Chibi was gone, headed for Galaxy Cauldron at the speed of thought.
Even as Sakura tended to her parents, the shockwave was felt. A feeling of peace and bliss, the euphoric death cry of Chaos, as its force was sucked out of the universe once more, sealed into the young body of the ultimate weapon created to be its end. The Light of Hope.
And even as everyone celebrated, the light dimmed, fading and blackening, twisting and turning, Chaos seeping into it faster and harder than ever before. The body had been primed a lifetime ago, as Galaxia, the mother had been tainted. Now, the child would carry the ultimate taint to every corner of creation, despite her nobler intentions.
As Sakura caught up with her parents, she failed to notice the corpses of her beloved friends vanishing into the ether, their bodies fading away, called forth to their new mistress' right hand.
Sakura smiled and kissed her father on the cheek before hugging her mother tightly. "You two take care of each other. Remember, I need to be born." She winked at them and stepped outside to answer a communize from Imperium Center.
"Moh, you forgot to ask her about fixing up the TARDIS," Minako said to Xadium irately as they stood in the TARDIS console room, preparing to leave the 58th century.
Xadium smiled and wrapped his hands around her waist, drawing her close to him and then pointing to a map of the galaxy on the viewer. " I *could* get her to fix it straight off," he said playfully, "but wouldn't you like to travel out here just a little more? Live the kind of life I lived for so long, before we return to playing house?"
"I'm not playing house," Minako replied, mock pouting. "Family life means a lot to me. It's something I always wanted." She nodded to the map. "But we can dance in the stars a little more, if you want to. Just get me home before dinner." She stuck her tongue out playfully at her husband, who grinned and pressed the takeoff button on the TARDIS, still holding her with one arm.
"Nothing wrong with playing house," he whispered in her ear as he brought his lips down to her neck and kissed her. "But right now, I'd like... to play Doctor."
"Hai..." Minako exhaled with pleasure as she arched her neck and drew her husband down to the ground.
Chibi-Chibi-- no, that name no longer applied-- Galaxia Spear stood in the center of a her provate quarters, planning her strategy. The Imperium had become weak and corrupt, and evil was everywhere. Like the woman who had given birth to her so long ago, she would bring peace to the Galaxy-- by any means neccessary, even if it meant crushing the Imperium, eliminating its decadent leaders and reforging the heart of the human empire into a war machine the likes of which the Galaxy had never seen. Interlopers like the Tairon Overfiend and their ilk would never be allowed to hurt anyone ever again!
Galaxia Spear exhaled tersely, looking over the black clad Sailor Mau, Sailor Poseidon, and Meioh Kenji, his face twisted into a cruel smirk. She had broken the laws of creation and forced life back into them, trying to undo their miserable fates, using her memories of who they had been to supply at least fragments of their personae. But they were still incomplete, directionless. Like vessels only half-full, they needed to be added to, completed by the perspective and presence of one who knew them as well as they had known themselves in life.
"Three of my shitennou are here," she began slowly, striding past her new elite guard, and turned to a hovering holosphere, upon which an image of Sakura Xadium Aino shimmered.
"Now bring me my fourth."