|A Year and Change|
His latest distraction had been a war, or rather, a series of wars. Big news, and bigger issues than who was going to be the top man in the California drug gangs, or sightings of angels--more common than flying saucers, of late. The artificial borders of the Middle East, mostly set nearly a century ago at the end of what had been called the Great War, had now been mostly abolished by what was now called the Great Mideast War. It had begun when the House of Saud had started infighting over the succession to the throne, and its larger neighbors had decided to take advantage. The war had got out of hand, as wars are likely to do. While a NATO/UN force contented itself with protecting what was really important--the Gulf oilfields--the parties proceeded to cross and double-cross one another, using all the deadly toys they had bought with their oil money instead of better lives for their people. A few nukes here, some anthrax there, and liberal applications of war gasses upon civilians, and they came apart--none of them were really homogenous, and once trust or fear of the central governments had gone, ethnic groups had grabbed for what they could get. Iraq shrank drastically; Assyria, Media and Sumeria reappeared on maps, at least in the English versions. Palestine, with Israeli connivance, swallowed all of Jordan and bits of Syria and Arabia. Driven from Jordan, the Sherifian dynasty returned to Mecca. A nominal accommodation was made with their old rivals by marrying the surviving Crown Prince to a Saudi princess. Control of the oil fields was not part of her dowry; that was to be administered by a permanent UN agency.
The Northern Powers (NATO, Russia, and Japan, as they were first called at this time) did not get away entirely unscathed. The United States, in particular, got an unpleasant shock when a small flock of cruise missiles were launched from a nondescript container ship off the East Coast. The White House air defenses stopped one, but, embarrassingly, the Pentagon was damaged by another one. Others hit CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia; the UN building in New York; and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, refitting at Newport News, Virginia. Five others malfunctioned, but it was stunning proof that the United States could be the target as well as the launcher of these wonder weapons, no longer beyond the reach of hostile nations.
Jack Crawford wrote and reported all these things--the War was his first big TV exposure, and he found that he could not resist wanting more. But mostly he poked around looking for "small" stories: A refugee family scattered to five different nations; the commander of a Marine battalion arranging a brief "presence" at his daughter's wedding through teleconferencing; a squabble between archeologists and the families of soldiers buried at a dig which had became a part of a battlefield. And, inevitably, stories of angels--or friendly djinn, as the traditions of these people would have them . . .
Ali stopped. "Listen."
His mother Nur hushed Taloob in her arms, and then whispered, "What do you hear?"
"Helicopters . . . we must get high, if they have the gas." There was nothing like a mountain and very few hills in their marshy homeland near the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates. There was the stump of a microwave relay tower perhaps 300 meters away; it might be high enough.
Ali's sharp hearing bought his family a head start, but Nur was very short, and very plump, and had Taloob to carry, and soon they were behind all the others, except for a small knot of women they passed going the other way. Nur was nearing the end of her strength, and she could see people swarming over the broken tower, like ants. She had no breath to warn them, but Ali had. He cried out, "No, ladies, you are going the wrong way!"
Things cracked and whined overhead, and some of the figures fell off the tower ahead. The few fighters among the crowd returned a ragged, futile volley. Nur dropped to the ground, covered Taloob, and prayed. Then she looked back, hoping that the helicopters would pass over without noticing them, hoping they did not have the gas.
The women who had passed her were still there. They threw off their robes; she could see this in the bright moonlight. They were wearing very little, she saw. They shouted in some language she had never heard before. And then they threw bolts of colored fire at the helicopters.
Allah in his mercy had sent djinn to save them.
None of the helicopters fell from the sky. Nur could not see them, except for a second when the colored fire passed them. They shot rockets; more colored fire knocked many of these from the sky. But not all; Nur saw some streak past her, heard explosions behind her, and then many screams. "It is the gas!" someone gargled.
Two djinn appeared overhead, shouting in the same strange language, and then one shouted in a language she recognized but did not understand--English. That one threw fireballs brighter than the Sun, and several helicopters fell in orange pyres. Then a cold, cold mist fell upon Nur, and blotted out the sky.
After a few moments, too terrified to move, Nur heard her son Ali call out, "Here, this is my mother and my brother!"
She looked up. Ali and a woman djinn were bent over her. The djinn had an electric torch. She handed it to Ali, and said to Nur, "Are you well?" She was speaking a very educated Arabic.
"I think so, Madame Djinn."
"Your baby looks well . . . I gave your daughter the antidote, so she should get better." The djinn was wearing a greenish glass over her eyes; it glowed, and there was writing and pictures which kept changing.
"She breathed some of the gas," said Ali.
"I am afraid I was too late for most of the others," said the djinn. "We have called for help. The next helicopters will bring help."
The other djinn drew near. Nur recognized the voice of the one who had thrown the fireballs that had destroyed the enemy helicopters, although she did not understand what she was saying. The djinn who could speak Arabic exchanged words with the others, mostly with the powerful one--a girl, really, but with a fierce appearance, festooned with jeweled-skulls like a grim goddess in one of the oldest stories. The kindly one said, "No one will attack you before help comes. The little moon promises that . . . "
The djinn stayed until American helicopters came, with help. The kindly one treated the survivors as if she was a doctor.
Later on, Ali explained to Nur that what the skull-wearing djinn had said was "I will send those fornicators of their own mothers to Hell if they return."
Ali explained, "The one with the skulls spoke English sometimes. She always spoke it when she cursed, I think."
"Was there another smaller one who stayed close to her?" Jack Crawford asked.
Ali said, "No. No, she was the shortest of the djinn that we saw, I think. I was as close to them as I am to you. Why do you ask this?"
"I saw her once, with a smaller one," Crawford remarked.
"You saw her?"
"Yes, with a smaller one . . . a man named Jean Sauvage took a famous picture of them."
Unfortunately, the videotape from this interview was recorded over. Only Jack Crawford knew it was deliberate. Because, while talking to this family, survivors of the final gas attack in Sumeria, the last piece of his puzzle fell into place. He did not tell the bright Sumerian youth Ali that he had also seen the kindly djinn before, killing an assassin, and then examining one of his victims, just as if she were a doctor . . . which she was.
Jack Crawford did not believe the "angels" were divine; he never had. But he did believe there was something that twisted their fates together. For why else when he came to find Dr. Mizuno did he find her in the room of a young girl, along with a petite teenager, with strawberry-blond hair, and a voice that millions had heard from Jean Sauvage's tape. The same voice; not even much lower in pitch. And the slight girl with all the tubes in her--when she spoke, he knew that voice, too.
And then the strawberry blond turned suddenly to stare him in the eyes, before he had said a word. Jack Crawford felt a chill, because this one, this mischievous ingenue who loved water fights like the one Jack had seen at Waikiki by chance--this one was perhaps the most dangerous one of them all.
"You know about us," she said, in English, very quietly.
Dr Mizuno, who had been reading from a Japanese book to the patient, looked up. "Chibi-Usa? What do you mean?"
Crawford felt sensations he did not know he could feel, but he also felt satisfaction. I was right, he thought. Then he stepped all the way inside, closing the door behind him. "She means I know about you, Dr. Mizuno. I know that you and this girl--"
"We are sisters," said the one who had probably knocked down five helicopters and Iraq's last hope of holding its Gulf oilfields.
"I know it was you two in the Sauvage video. And it was you, Dr. Mizuno, here at Highland the night the Jones' were murdered. And in Chicago, I think, the day of the fight at Lake Merritt. And both of you together, saving those refugees from the gas attack two weeks ago. And if I'm not mistaken, it was you in Boston about a month ago . . . are you trying to do something to me now? I feel strange feelings."
"She is reading your thoughts," said the injured one.
"You must have some Talent, to feel it," said Dr. Mizuno.
"Some," said the most dangerous one. "I know you don't want to report what you know. Why? I can't read as well as Mom, but I can tell if you are telling the truth."
He looked at Dr. Mizuno in preference to the strawberry blond. "I'm not sure. I don't want to screw up your life, Dr. Mizuno. Or Kev Jones' widow's--she was the first one at the lake. You don't look the same when you're angels, but you are not that different . . . especially the voices. I was closest to her. I don't know who you two are--wait, is your mother Mrs. Chiba?" That day at Waikiki, Mrs. Chiba had been with Dr. Mizuno, and Kevin Jones and his wife . . .
"Yes," said the strawberry blond. "She is our mother."
Dr. Mizuno rose, and asked, "Why are you telling us all this?"
Crawford shrugged. "I wanted to be sure I was right. Also, I know the government is looking for you. Maybe they've already found you. I used to have a contact, but he's gone cold on me." He looked down at the injured girl. "How did you get in this mess?"
"I was trying to help someone. A friend. I can fly faster than most of the others. But I can't fight very good. Very well. The man hurt me before Saturn-san could catch up."
"You saved Mika, Kimi," said the big sister, with the first hint of weakness in her voice.
"You still shouldn't talk too much, Kimi-chan," said Dr. Mizuno.
"I'm sorry," said Crawford, meaning it. Turning to the strawberry sister, he asked, "Boston, right? Another creep with his head cut off, like Chicago.?"
She nodded. "It would not have happened if I had been with Kimi."
"It was not your fault," said Dr. Mizuno. "I think if you had not scared him, that man would have killed Mika before anyone could find her."
"Well, there's another one I won't buy flowers for," remarked Crawford. "You ladies have put a dent in the creep population."
Then the tough little one surprised him. "I should not have destroyed so many of the helicopters. I could hear the last thoughts of some of the men on them."
"It was war," said Crawford, who had come to appreciate war for what it really was.
"Yes. I hate war."
Everyone was quiet for what seemed a long while, but was actually only seconds. Then Dr. Mizuno said something in Japanese. She turned back to Crawford, and after another moment, said, "I told her she is not the only one who gets angry. I did not need to kill that one running away from the hospital. I could have knocked his gun away. But I saw what he had done to Minako's husband and his family. If there had been a hundred of them, I think I would have killed them all."
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