24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

6:00 am, Tokyo time
Casino #5, somewhere in Europe
Jadeite, Kunzite, Zoisite

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Jadeite was on a winning streak. He had been trying to make sure he lost from time to time, really he had, but the sweet rush of success got to his head and he ended up letting himself flow with his good luck and good instincts. He did move from one roulette table to another when the dealer, or whatever the roulette wheel spinner guy was called, started giving him funny looks, but his luck picked right up again at the next table.

From time to time he looked around for Kunzite and Zoisite; they seemed to be enjoying similar good luck, and they also made sure to move from one table to another. They were going to make it, Jadeite thought. They would have enough money, and Nephrite had gotten himself in good with the Senshi by dying for their little red-headed friend so he shouldn't have any trouble convincing them to help him and the other Generals out. Even Thetis would come around; if nothing else, a really extravagant gift should be enough to melt her heart.

"Sixteen," he said, riding high on a wave of a sense of well-being that he couldn't remember ever feeling before. He placed his bet along with the other players at the table. The wheel and the ball spun and slowed, and the ball came to rest in the slot marked 16. The roulette wheel spinner distributed the winnings and called for the next bet.

The number 11 came into Jadeite's mind, then a low male voice said in his ear, "If you would excuse the interruption, Monsieur Jade, would you please come with me for a moment?"

He looked to see a man standing at his elbow, tall and burly, dressed in a plain black suit, white shirt, and black necktie, clean-shaven, thinning hair neatly combed over the top of his head. The voice was mild, but the look on the man's face gave no room for argument or refusal. Jadeite thought he could see, beneath the plain but well-tailored suitcoat, the bump of a gun in a shoulder holster. "Oh, ah. Certainly." He nodded and smiled to the roulette spinner guy. "I'll sit this one out." He gathered up his winnings and followed the security man, trying to look a lot less concerned than he felt.

As he passed by other guests of the casino, he noticed glances being directed his way, some sympathetic, some scornful. In other parts of the vast room, he saw Kunzite and Zoisite also being escorted by men in identical black suits, with identical looks on their faces to the man who had interrupted Jadeite's fun. Zoisite's face was stormy; Jadeite could almost feel the tremendous effort he must have been making to not lash out at everyone in the casino with a storm of his special razor-sharp cherry blossom petals. Kunzite's expression was icy, but Jadeite recognized the pent-up rage behind it. The three of them could level this place in no time, he thought. These humans had no idea who they were messing with...

Or maybe they did, he thought, remembering Thetis. What had she told the casino management about them? Or was she the casino management? Actually, he doubted she had instigated this roundup of them, after letting them have their fun for two hours. Unless she was getting an extra thrill from letting them think everything was okay and then pulling the rug out from under them.

Which, actually, shouldn't surprise him.

Jadeite, Kunzite, and Zoisite were escorted into a dark, plush, but decidedly serious office in the rear of the casino. A portly, balding man dressed in white tie sat at an enormous desk of polished black wood. A sleek computer monitor glowed in the dim light of the room. Thetis was sitting in a chair off to the side. Jadeite gave her a sharp look, which she met with a bland expression and a slight shrug.

"Monsieur Jade, Monsieur Stone, Monsieur - ah - Cherry," the man behind the desk said in a pleasant voice that was obviously an act. "Please be seated." He indicated some plain wooden chairs ranged in front of the desk, facing him.

Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite sat down in the chairs, and their security guard escorts took up positions standing behind the chairs. "Thank you," Jadeite said. "May I ask what this is about?"

"I understand you gentlemen have been having quite a rewarding time this evening."

"Ah, yes, Lady Luck does seem to be with us tonight." Jadeite offered what he hoped was a friendly- and innocent-looking smile. Kunzite and Zoisite were still scowling, their displeasure with the situation almost stirring the air in the room.

"Luck, indeed," the man said. "We have never before had guests win as steadily as you three gentlemen have tonight. And not just you. I understand from colleagues of mine that three men bearing a strong resemblance to you have had equally successful evenings in their establishments. The fact that each of these establishments are several time zones apart makes it difficult but not impossible for you to actually have been in all of them in the course of the last nine hours. But the marked resemblance between you and the security camera photos my colleagues have shared with me cannot be coincidence."

Damn. It hadn't occurred to Jadeite, who had a better idea of how things were done on Earth than either Zoisite or Kunzite, to worry about security cameras or the possibility that the management of the different casinos might able to instantly share information by way of that Internet thing about gamblers who won unusually large amounts of money. "Of course, it's impossible that it was us," Jadeite said. "It must be a coincidence, people who just happen to bear a resemblance to us."

"No one," the man said, "just happens to bear a resemblance to you. Look."

He turned the computer monitor so that Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite could see it. On the monitor was a rather blurry, but clear enough, black and white photo of the three of them entering the first casino together. Their fit builds, Zoisite's ponytail and Kunzite's long, straight, pale hair, and Jadeite's and Kunzite's height were unmistakeable, even though the picture had been taken from behind.

"I suppose there is a general resemblance, from behind," Jadeite said.

"And not just from behind." The man clicked his computer mouse, and another picture appeared on the screen, giving a full view of their faces.

Crap. "Ah, yes. There is a very strong resemblance, I'll agree," Jadeite said.

"And here." With another click of the mouse, another image appeared on the monitor. Different casino, this picture in color instead of black and white, but it was clearly Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite entering the second casino. "And here." Another picture, this one of them entering the third casino. And another, from the fourth.

"Given the time stamps on these images," the man said, "It might be possible for you to be all of these men if you had, perhaps, privately chartered a Concorde jet."

"It would certainly be nice if we had the money to do something like that," Jadeite said. "Unfortunately, we don't."

"Or didn't, at the start of the evening," the man said. "My inquiries, and my colleagues' inquiries with all public and private airfields in the vincinties of our establishments have revealed no activity by any privately-chartered supersonic transport jets. However, that doesn't mean you couldn't have flown in undetected, under the radar as it were, and landed at a secret, unregistered field."

"I assure you, we would never do anything like that." Jadeite gave the man another smile that he hoped looked absolutely sincere.

"The alternative explanation is that you three and at least twelve other men who happen to look like you are involved in some sort of criminal scheme. If you will come clean and tell us the truth, we will let you go with only the forfeiture of your winnings. If you decline to cooperate, my assistants here -" He nodded to the three security guards "- may be forced to use measures designed to persuade you to cooperate."

Behind him, Jadeite heard his security guard crack his knuckles. He glanced at Zoisite and Kunzite, who both looked about two seconds away from blasting the casino flat to the ground - along with their chances at getting their lives back. "Oh, hell," he said, for lack of anything else to say.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury