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005-Till Our Lives Burn Out - Ch3-Pt2b-Pt3a

by Eric Gasparich
copyright 02-02-2008


Age Rating: 13 +
005-Till Our Lives Burn Out - Ch3-Pt2b-Pt3a


Till Our Lives Burn Out

A Sailor Moon Fan Story

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Chapter 003-First Things
(Part 2- Continued)

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“For all I was able to discover, he simply appeared out of thin air seven years ago, and … ah,” she said with a look of some one having a minor ‘Eureka!’ moment.

“You are so funny,” Miyuki laughed. “Sometimes I think having someone to actually talk to is just an added frill to the perpetual conversation with yourself.”

“No, no,” she said apologetically, “I just realized what I need to do.”

“Yes?”

“I need to talk to those who first put their trust in him, and find out why. Surely it took more than a nice smile and a soothing voice to …”

“Hmmm, Setsuna-san?” ‘Nice smile? Soothing voice? What’s all this now?’

“Yes?”

“If I didn’t know you, I’d wonder if you weren’t straying toward the rarefied climes of obsession, and possibly clinical paranoia. Are you sure you don’t have time, some day, for me to psychoanalyze you?”

Miyuki-chan’s friendship was of the kind where jokes were mostly jokes, and yet might, though not always, contain a serious thought behind them. One never really knew. The ambiguity was part of the fun of it, for both women.

“Perhaps this New Year’s?” Setsuna suggested lightheartedly.

“It’s a date,” Miyuki said with emphasis on the word ‘date’. “It’ll cost you one bottle of champagne. Dom Pérignon, of course.”

“You have a deal,” Setsuna smiled. Neither of them was sure the other was joking.

“I’ll see you later, Setsuna-chan,” said Miyuki, in that way that meant ‘My dear Setsuna.’

Setsuna walked down the corridor toward the exit. The bus stop was right next to the commons and as long as the bus was on time –which it never was to her satisfaction- she would be at Juuban Elementary in time. There were times when she amused herself with the idea of spending a few hours on Miyuki’s couch, and then telling her everything there was to know about the Sailor Senshi. The scene usually ended with Miyuki on the couch, after first trying to have Setsuna committed to a sanitarium, and then seeing her transform and fire off the Dead Scream attack, preferably on a recently received love letter or two.

She got to the bus stop. No bus. It had no chance of being on time now. Then, she saw it just beginning to come around a corner.

‘Twenty two seconds late. Unacceptable,’ she smiled to herself.

She arrived at Juuban Elementary, and walked down to the teacher’s rooms to put on her nurse’s uniform. She truly enjoyed the days she worked here. She loved children anyway, and it was also amusing how, when she first started working here, otherwise healthy children –especially boys - who had been knocking each other around at recess twenty minutes ago, suddenly came down with chills, fevers, upset stomachs, and in the case of one little budding genius, ‘an acute case of Schisto-so-mia-sis, Meioh-san.’ Setsuna learned early on how to separate the fakers from the real cases. It wasn’t all that hard really, and if someone chose to brazen it out, the large syringe with the very long needle in the cupboard, in combination with the words ‘you shall require an injection,’ was an excellent lie detector, diagnostic tool and all-around miracle insta-cure. A couple of the boys had even been brave enough to try her, until she actually began drawing fluid from a brown bottle, with an ever so slight look of sadistic glee on her face. No one had yet gotten past that point. Now only new students would try to fool her. She had been thinking about giving the needle a name. ‘Sir Inge’ seemed too clever by half. The “Sir” part definitely worked, however.

She walked through the hallways to her office and saw more than a few faces through classroom door windows take note of her passing, and then turn to whisper to fellow classmates. Even through closed door, the message was clear: she’s here today! Those to whom it mattered the most had her schedule memorized anyway, but occasionally she had to beg off, so the Pretty Nurse Internal Alert System was an essential feature of the student body.

She sat down at her desk. If she hurried, there might be just enough time to answer a request for a date cleverly disguised as that invitation to the Edwards Mansion. The party invitation was real enough, and had that been all there was to it, she might even have gone, had fun and even danced with a few people. However, enclosed with it was a request to go as someone’s guest. Since she did respect those who ‘risked themselves’ to express their feelings, she felt they deserved a response in kind. If someone asked her to her face, she would respond with a decorous “I am very flattered. You are very kind,” followed by a firm, “but I am otherwise engaged.” In this case, she would write it out and send it by campus mail as the would-be suitor had done.

‘How come?’ Hotaru had asked.

Miyuki Miyamura could have written her dissertation on the complexities involved there, but it all came down to one thing: an ancient vow –or really two vows, one official, one private- that effectively rendered her a social outsider. She certainly saw nothing wrong with socializing and going to a party now and then. Networking was a concept she understood well for a number of reasons. As for attention from starry eyed little school boys, it was cute, uncomplicated and even charming at times. It became less so when the little boys weren’t so little.

-------------------------------------------------

Any doubts Hotaru had about the way she was being taught disappeared within two weeks. One interesting development was the way she began studying how she was being taught. Essentially, each lesson was a daylong lecture, punctuated by little reviews of material learned previously- anything was fair game there. One might have thought this boring, and even painful, but somehow it was more like a symphony, weaving disparate disciplines together like different melodies in a tone poem. This kept the subjects fresh, and at times, fun. It didn’t take long for him to figure out World History was her favorite subject. From then on, he framed her coursework in that context. In each subject, he was uncannily good at judging when he had pushed her far enough, and moved fluidly to another. He had a way of mixing the stuff she was not so interested in with the stuff she was, keeping the education comprehensive and relevant. He also mixed in breaks, lunches and snacks, and short walks in a nearby park, to help her get stronger physically.

She was a little nervous the first time she took real tests under this new teacher. He taught her ‘across disciplines,’ yet he gave tests that were discipline specific. Of course, this was how she would be tested for real, so she realized she’d better start learning how to adjust between the two. It turned out she was worried about nothing. Within a few minutes of beginning, she was amazed at how easily she could pull the relevant bits and pieces out of any lesson, and complete tests quickly and with confidence that she’d done well.

And so she had. Kuryakin attributed this to her own intelligence, and her upbringing. He had always wanted to have a lone genius student like this, just to see how far he could take someone like her. Till now, he felt his ‘mission’ required him to help the less gifted, and he’d done that well. Educating Hotaru Tomoe was going to be something of a reward for that. Or so he hoped.

“I must compliment your guardians on the job they’ve done sometime. These scores are very good. In time, I will see you perfect,” he winked at her. “Now take note of the stuff in red I’ve written on them. I’m going to have you spend a bit of time learning how to write a good essay answer. At your level there’ll be some of those on the official tests you’ll be taking, and when you do them right, you get a lot of points for it. And of course, just before the midterms and finals, we’ll take practice tests modeled on the real ones.”

Once she thought about it, she realized it was no different than the way her guardians had educated her, though it was more thorough, systematized and broached subjects she had never been taught. Best of all in this first testing, there were no blackouts. She didn’t know whether it was because someone was with her, or something else, but not once did she come even close to freezing.

There was one other thing, a very strange thing: so strange, she was almost certain it was just her imagination. But every now and then, just barely, she got a sense that something else was in the room with them. When she felt it at all, she noticed it came in with him, and left with him. It also disappeared, that is, when she could sense it at all, when he was directly engaged with her, and then returned when he focused on something else. Still, it was so tenuous a perception that she had to chalk it up to imagination.

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Her early successes merited the first ‘fun’ field trip. He mentioned some swimming would be involved, but otherwise, he did not tell her anything about where they would be going or what she would be doing. So she dutifully packed a swimsuit and beach towel into her book bag, and expected to be reviewed as they drove to where ever they were going. It had also required that a waiver be signed, and he had even called Setsuna to talk to her about the trip. She had thought it a very nice idea. Almost too nice, really.

‘The Kittens’ dropped her off on that Monday morning, and then Kuryakin loaded her up in the van along with a picnic lunch and a laptop that she would use for review on the way. They drove south out of Tokyo, through Yokohama City, and down to the town of Atami on the Izu peninsula, famous for its hot springs, and the Izu Ocean Park. They headed toward the ocean park, and Hotaru thought that might be where he was taking her, until they drove past it. Then he turned in at the next parking lot, where a new place had just opened up: the Izu Ocean Park Dolphinarium, which was connected with the Izu Ocean Park but with its own separate facility.

Kuryakin got out and went to the door, where he was greeted by the curator, a short middle aged man named Dr. Daisuke Sato, whom he lead down to the van where he introduced them to each other.

“Dr. Sato, this is Hotaru Tomoe. Hotaru-chan, Dr. Sato.”

“A pleasure to meet you, sir,” she said very formally. “Thank you for having me here today.”

“Our pleasure, Tomoe-san. Now we just opened up, but we’ve already got four very well behaved bottlenose dolphins for you to meet today. Did you bring a swimsuit?”

“You mean I am going to get in the pool with them?”

“And interact with them, if they initiate contact. We’re very strict on that, here. But it they accept you, they might even pull you around the pool a few times.”

“Wow, is it safe?” she asked, anxiously.

“Oh yes. We’ve got very friendly ones here. Two of them were injured by fishing nets. We’ll be releasing them, eventually. The other two we bought after evaluating their temperaments.”

“Now first we have to go hear a little lecture about all this, Hotaru-chan,” said Kuryakin, “and you’d better take notes.”

“Yes, Kuryakin-sensei.”

“By the way,” Dr. Sato said happily, “there will another group here later on. However, you are here under special circumstances, and so you will have the pool and the kiddies all to yourself for about an hour.”

The lecture lasted about thirty minutes, and then Hotaru went to change, along with the assistant who would be helping her in the pool, a nice and very pretty undergrad getting a degree in Marine Biology, named Yoshi Mifune. Hotaru came out with her towel over her shoulders, looking a bit nervous about it all. Mifune-san led Hotaru into the water, which was quite warm, and began attracting the dolphins to her. Or trying to anyway. The dolphins didn’t seem interested. Or was it something else? After a few minutes, all four of them had congregated on the far side, as far away Hotaru as they could manage.

‘Odd that,’ thought Kuryakin. ‘They must be mimicking her shyness.’

“Huh,” said Dr. Sato, from pool side. “I’ve never seen dolphins act this way before. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were afraid of her.”

“Really?” said Kuryakin. “You think that’s it, Dr. Sato?”

“They’ve never acted this shy before.”

Hotaru’s face became very glum. ‘I even have trouble making friends with animals. Can’t blame them, I suppose.’

‘All right,’ Kuryakin thought, ‘Let-the-Dolphins-initiate-contact or not, I didn’t come all this way and shell out 25,000 yen for my prize, if only, pupil to get stood up by a bunch of stuck up dolphins.’

“Hey, cowards!” he yelled, as he walked over to the other side of the pool. By pure coincidence, a couple of them actually broke the surface at that moment. “Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you. A sweet, wonderful young lady has come all this way to visit you. You should be honored: you shall not meet her like again. Hurt her feelings, and even if Flipper forgives you, I won’t. Now get over there, or I’ll have words with you all, sissies.”

He slapped the top of the water with his hand a few times. Nothing. Hotaru was starting to feel embarrassed, especially over her tutor’s loud behavior. Then she realized that at least in part, he was acting foolish to make her smile, and she did.

“Don’t make me come in there,” he said threateningly.

Some stirring among the four dolphins.

“Okay then …” he said, as sport coat, slacks and all, he came over the railing. He had one foot halfway into the water, when one of them streaked toward Hotaru, dove deep upon approach, rocketed out of the water near her, and leapt over her, somersaulting in the air and splashing her with water. Hotaru applauded, and the rest of the dolphins seemed to loosen up and went over to her.

“That’s better,” Kuryakin smiled as he got out a camera.

The assistant was still having a bit of trouble getting one of them to pull Hotaru across the pool, but eventually, the same one that first approached her got very close and then actually nuzzled her, and the assistant said Hotaru could go ahead and try taking a hold of his dorsal fin. She did, and then he rapidly pulled her along. From that point on, Hotaru could not remember having more fun. The assistant brought out a bucket of fish to offer to them, and gave it to Hotaru, who was then swarmed by all four as they vied for her attention by doing various acrobatics, and chirruping loudly.

Once the frenzy was over, the dolphin that first approached her began monopolizing her time, and would drive away the other competitors. “That’s remarkable,” said the assistant. “It means he’s accepted you, and thinks of you as his own now.” He began to pull Hotaru around the pool, and sometimes at great speed. If she couldn’t hang on, he would go back and get her. Once he pulled her lazily over to the side of the pool where her teacher was watching with intense interest.

“So alive … so powerful they are,” she said panting as she looked up at him.

“Indeed,” he said, as he threw some fish to the hard-working male who swallowed them and rolled over on his side acting rather coy, to appearances, at least.

A surprise awaited them both today. That group of students had arrived. Suddenly one of them called to Kuryakin from quite far away.

“Kuryakin-sensei?! Oh my, is that you?”

He looked toward the sound of his name, and saw a girl with blue-tinted hair in a bathing suit running toward him.

“Ami Mizuno?”

“Kuryakin-san,” she said enthusiastically. “I knew it was you. As tall as you are, it had to be you.”

“Oh, my! I haven’t seen you in six years, Mizuno-chan, and we were in the same city. Now we meet down here. How lucky can we get? They say no good deed goes unpunished, but it’s always been the opposite with me. I bring someone down here for some fun, and look what happens. My, you’ve grown. I can’t believe this is the same shy, little girl I could barely get two words out of.”

“What have you been doing, lately, Kuryakin-san? Still teaching?”’

“Yes, I’m here with a student right now,” he smiled pointing down to Hotaru.

Ami looked at the tank and said, “Hotaru-chan?”

“You two know each other?” he said, suddenly even more interested than usual.

“Yes,” Ami said. Upon hearing that, Kuryakin blinked a few times, and then stared at Mizuno’s face very intently as she spoke to Hotaru. Then he quickly shifted his glance back to the pool. The dolphin began swimming around Hotaru again.

“Boy, he really likes you now, kiddo,” Kuryakin said. “Miss Mizuno, that one has been taking all of her time for the last half hour.”

“I always knew you’d get a cute boyfriend, Hotaru-chan,” Ami smiled.

She blushed, and grabbed the dorsal fin for another quick trip around the pool.

“Are you going to join in, then?”

“Right after lunch,” Ami replied.

“Speaking of which, a few more times and then we’ll need to have lunch, Hotaru.”

“Yes, Kuryakin-sensei.”

“Please come sit with me. I’ll save a space for you,” Ami said as she headed off.

“Excellent,” he said. “I’d love to hear all about what you’ve been doing since the cram school.”

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Kuryakin joined Ami, and began unpacking lunch. Hotaru was yawning, tired out by the morning’s exertions.

“So how do you two know each other?” Hotaru asked as she took a bite of her sandwich.

“She was my very first official student in my very first cram school. It was only because I met her mother when I took a friend to the hospital. She asked what I did. I mentioned I was going to start a cram school. She mentioned that she had a brilliant daughter, and that she was not satisfied her current juku was getting the best out of her. Then she began drilling me on what I knew about teaching, and what I knew about various subjects. When it was over she seemed impressed enough to give me a try.”

“That may not have been the only reason,” Ami said a bit cryptically. “Remember that day at the zoo?”

“Oh, that was no big deal, Miss Mizuno.”

“You’re being modest, I think. Keeping that tiger from hurting anyone …”

“Tiger?!” said Hotaru, with wide eyes.

“Some kids were messing around with a gate and one of the tigers charged,” he said to Hotaru. “Well, half charged anyway. His heart wasn’t really in it. They ran away, and then it ambled out the open gate. It was old, declawed, and it had just eaten. It wasn’t that big a deal. But it did show that I was willing to put my charges' safety before my own.”

“Well, mother has been a ’fan’ ever since. She was very sad when you quit doing the cram school. So was I. I still don’t understand why you were unwilling to tutor me privately.”

“Well, my tutoring schedule was incredibly heavy that year. You seem to have gotten on just fine without me. I knew you would, too. That’s why I stopped doing the cram school. I wanted to spend more time giving individual help to the people who really needed it. You didn’t really need my help. So, Mizuno-chan, what’s been happening with you since I had you for a student? Anything interesting?”

“Oh, … nothing much,” she said. “Just studying as usual.”

“Nothing else?”

“I’ve made some wonderful friends since then.”

“Ah, good,” he smiled, “You look so different, I thought it might be something like that. I always hoped some people would come along to draw you out a bit. You were so painfully shy as a student.”

“I was so little then. I had to look almost straight up to see your face during the cram session.”

“You always sat in the front row, so of course you did. You almost never smiled. Now you’re so much more outgoing, and you look much happier. I just can’t tell you how glad I am to see that.”

“So how did you meet Hotaru?” Ami asked with great interest.

“Well, her guardians – I take it you know them?” he asked.

“Oh yes,” said Ami.

“Well, they home schooled her and did such a great job that all she needs now is someone to round out her education.”

Ami sensed there was more –much more -to it than that. Last she’d heard, Hotaru was in a public school. But of course, Kuryakin would be professionally obligated to keep anything really interesting in confidence at all times.

“Well, Hotaru-chan, how do you like having a private teacher, so far?” asked Ami.

“I like it very much,” she said, yawning. The combination of exertion and lunch had her ready for a nice nap on the trip back.

“What are you enjoying the most?” she asked.

“This field trip is incredible, and I get to do an art project. I’m really excited about that.”

“Really? Any idea what you’re going to do?”

“I’m going to make a birthday present for Setsuna-momma.”

“That’s wonderful,” said Ami, “I’m sure you’ll do a great job. Well, it looks like were ready to go play with the dolphins. Will you be joining us for a bit, Hotaru-chan?”

“I’m pretty tired now, but I promised that one I’d be back after lunch so I’d better spend a little more time in there. It’s all right, isn’t it, Kuryakin-sensei?”

“We’re paying customers like everyone else, and you can stay in as long as you are able.”

Which turned out to be a very short time. This had really worn Hotaru out. Her favorite dolphin seemed glad to see her back. Ami joined her and when she was too tired to continue, she said good bye to him, and Ami promised to take good care of him for the rest of the day.

“It was great seeing you, Ami-chan,” said Kuryakin, as a tired Hotaru began toweling off.

“Great to see you, too.”

“Let’s get together for coffee sometime later on this fall. I want hear about your future plans. You might be reaching a point where my methods could be of great help to you.”

“That would be wonderful. Just call my mother’s and leave me your number. I’ll get back to you.”

“Very good.”

“Good bye, Hotaru–chan.”

“Good bye,” she said, tiredly. Kuryakin buckled her into the passenger seat. There would be no reviewing on the trip home today. He was always ready of course, but he knew she’d be exhausted and would probably sleep all the way home. He had already made up his mind to bring her here again in a few weeks, if the schedule permitted it. He wanted to see whether she might get stronger in the interim.

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Setsuna was walking along the street toward the Crown Fruit Parlor. She had an informal appointment with someone and had just left Juuban Elementary school.

It had been a busy morning. She’d have a live one: a sixth grade transfer student who was just sure his upset tummy would go away if she would rub it for him. “Oh no, no, this is far too serious for half measures,” she had responded. In a light moment that previous evening, she had decided upon a name for the truth detecting syringe. She had been reading Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, and the perfect name was right there before her eyes. She was thinking about getting it out, when the little, starry-eyed opportunist had demonstrated he was genuinely ill by relieving his stomach in her waste basket. She gave him something to calm his stomach, found he had a slight fever and called his mother to come and pick him up. Later, she dealt with a playground accident. A little second grade girl had taken a tumble, and scrapped a knee and an elbow. After that, a couple of other kids also showed up with fevers. ‘Might be the beginning of an outbreak,’ she sighed. More calls to parents, and then she would have to send out a flyer concerning absentee policy and ‘what to do if …’ pointers for parent tending sick kids for everyone in the student body to take home. She had also met a younger girl, fresh out of nursing school, who was going to be covering the hours she couldn’t be there due to classes. She was brown haired and extremely pretty, Setsuna noted with satisfaction. Maybe this newbie could share the workload in more ways than one. “First, introductions,” Setsuna said decorously by way of beginning a brief orientation. “This is Sir Lance-A-Lot, your new best friend,” she said as she held up the needle. The girl had laughed, and nodded. She already knew about this sort of thing.

Now, as she walked to Crown, Setsuna had time to think. One of the things bothering Setsuna about Hotaru’s tutor had something to do with the way she saw people as a result of her abilities as Time Guardian. When she saw someone, she did not just see them at that moment, but in fact, she could see certain things about that person throughout their lifespan, if she chose. She rarely did so, for several reasons. Contrary to speculation among those in the know, hers was a very, very qualified omniscience. The most important reason was the need to keep her mind uncluttered from the mundane in order to retain, or be prepared to retain things her duty would deem significant; the stress of knowing too much about too many could make one crazy. Any attempt to know everything about everyone was a statistical impossibility. Simple courtesy was part of it, too. Usagi Tsukino may have misused her transformation pen from time to time. Setsuna Meioh was neither temperamentally disposed to such things, nor was she in any way immature.

However, anything and anyone to do with the Senshi was fair game, indeed, imperative. Problem number one: when she first met Peter Kuryakin, she had thought to ‘check him out’ discreetly. But something about him disrupted her ‘focus.’ Problem number two: the few moments where she did remember to do so, Kuryakin-san had proven opaque to put it mildly. This was … unusual. He was foreign, and that might have been part of it. She was more in tune to the antecedent peoples and cultures located nearest to the place from whence the kingdom she was looking for was supposed to come. He was also a dynamic individual, but really, that should have made him easier to ‘see’. His ‘life cycle’ should have been more, not less, obvious to her. Still, it was problem number one was the most bedeviling. Why did he fluster her so?

She entered the parlor and a beautiful, classy-looking, sable-haired girl waved to her, and invited her to sit.

“Thank you, Hino-san,” she smiled as she sat and ordered some limeade from the waitress taking Rei Hino’s order.

“So how are you all doing?” asked Rei, with interest.

“Very well, thank you,” Setsuna replied curtly. Even with her fellow Senshi, Setsuna did not volunteer information unless specifically asked, and only if it was something she thought she could share. Rei was in no hurry here, and, it occurred to her, neither was Setsuna. She might appear to be, but her operational tempo was always dictated by her knowledge of Time. At present, she seemed to have time for leisure.

“I am here to ask you for a personal favor,” she said, formally and business-like as always.

“Really?” said Rei. This was flattering, so much so, she almost blushed. “How can I help?”

The waitress was quick with their drinks, and Setsuna took a moment to sip some of it, in order to hide how reticent she suddenly felt about asking such a favor. She began explaining a bit of the situation with Hotaru and then produced a picture of her tutor which was part of the informational packet he’d set home with her the first day, and told of how she had vague but persistent suspicions about him.

“I am trying to be discreet about this, so I am wondering of you could perhaps use your psychic abilities on this picture to verify that there is no threat here.”

This seemed a bit strange to Rei. If Setsuna had any problems with someone who might be spending a lot of time with Hotaru, why did she allow it in the first place? Still, that an Outer Planet Senshi had come to her for help flattered her pride in herself and her abilities, and often times, she recalled, Setsuna had reasons for doing things that she simply couldn’t reveal. This was something they all accepted, even if they didn’t like it.

“Well,” said Rei in response, “I can tell you one thing right away.”

“Yes?” she said, leaning forward and looking expectant.

“He’s cute.”

Setsuna never plotzed, but at hearing that, she gave it her best try: she momentarily looked heavenward, while Rei was taking a good hard look at the photograph. Some surely impossible thoughts about the woman across from her were stirring in her head.

“Setsuna-san, if I may ask, there is something that has always puzzled me about you.”

“Please.”

“We all have foretelling and seeing abilities of various kinds. But you’re the only one who … well, why do you always seem so sad?”

She sighed inwardly and looked thoughtful for a moment. She was asking for a favor and a little openness didn’t seem to violate her standing rule about playing close to the vest.

“Just between you and I, Hino-san, I am not all that sad. I am serious, however. I look the part for the sake of others. Think about it, Hino-san. Even though no one knows who we are, if I looked happy all the time, those of you who do know me would get the idea that the future I see is something that will come inevitably. It most certainly will not, especially if start taking our choices a bit too lightly. From this vantage point, there is nothing certain about the future. There are things that have to be done, things that yet have to be dealt with. Some of them might result in very sad events, and I feel that sadness. From this vantage point, the outcome is in doubt. Everything is in flux. It is not a light matter.”

“I think I understand, Setsuna-san. If I may say so, I admire how clearheaded and focused you are, unlike certain people we know,” said Rei, smiling, as an image of Usagi Tsukino lustily stuffing her face with pancakes came into her mind. “It is important for the clear heads among us to keep a watchful eye out. And when you do occasionally smile, it’s all the more meaningful.”

“I am glad to see you understand so well. I felt you would.”

“All right then. I’ll ‘take a look’ at this over the next few days. I will call you the moment I find out anything.”

“Thank you, Hino-san.”

“Setsuna-san?”

“Yes, Hino-san.”

“I’m …very flattered by your trust. I am very happy to be of help to you. I will do my best, and keep it to myself.”

Setsuna smiled very warmly at her as if to say, “of course I trust you. I always have and always will.”

As they parted, it suddenly came into Rei’s mind, that Setsuna-san was more deeply troubled about this than she was letting on. It was strange how ‘personal’ it seemed to be. Then, thoughts of that impossible possibility came to her again.

‘It can’t be,’ she thought, slyly. ‘It just can’t.’

It was an interesting speculation. The one feeling that immediately struck anyone upon meeting Setsuna Meioh, or even meeting her again, was ‘gravitas.’ As she’d said, she was a serious woman, not to be trifled with: still waters that not only ran deep but could drown enemies quickly. Rei could appreciate that. She too was ‘serious.’ But where she often wore her passions on her sleeve, Setsuna was the soul of self control. That did not mean that she felt nothing, though that was possible. Rei was almost certain, however, she was a woman of passions that ran very deep. What would happen if she ever let go? Even more interesting: what would it be like if someone … got through to her?

A very interesting speculation indeed.

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Chapter 003-First Things
(Part 3)

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“Kuryakin-sensei?”

“Yes?” he said, stopping his lecture, which at the moment was covering the development of science in Europe.

“Why did the Western Roman Empire fall, while the Eastern part didn’t?”

Kuryakin stared at her. He had thought this moment might come one day, given her comprehensive knowledge of basic events in world history. He was a bit surprised at how soon this had happened, but he had made up his mind from day one how he would handle it. Some serious caveats were now in order.

“Okay, Hotaru-chan,” he said as he put a chair in front of her elevated desk, sat down in it, and stared up at her. “Let me explain something first. Your knowledge of world history is exceptional. I am impressed, and if you really want to know what I think about something, I will tell you. But understand: when I say, ‘okay this is what I think,’ it’s my opinion. I happen to have a high opinion of my opinions, as you may find out, but it is not something you will be tested on. Okay?”

“I understand.”

“Also, we won’t be able to spend a lot of time on this sort of thing, but Miss Meioh’s directive about discretion notwithstanding, I feel it is part of my duty to … well, let me put it this way: you are her ward, but you are also an individual, and it is my duty, not as a teacher, but as a fellow human being, to treat you that way. And as a teacher, it is my duty to do anything I can to awaken the thirst for truth in you.”

“Kuryakin-sensei?”

“Yes, Hotaru-chan?”

“You don’t have to worry about that. Believe me, it’s awake.”

“And hungry, it would seem,” he said, as he stared into her eyes ...

(WORD LIMIT REACHED)




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