A Year and Change

A Sailor Moon fan fiction by Thomas Sewell (oldgringo2001@yahoo.com)


East of Dulles Airport (Virginia)
ROLAND DESCARTES couldn't stand another minute of the blaring Country and Western pouring out of the truck waiting just behind. He got out of the limousine again and began walking away. Andrea protested, but Roland simply waved his manager off, and quickened his pace. He was walking into the sun now, approaching the Western horizon. He paused to phone the White House switchboard again, and then walked on, more slowly, nodding to people he had passed on earlier strolls over the past four hours. The call was taking a long time to get through, though, and Roland found himself passing by new cars and new faces. He finally stopped as he came up on a rather elderly bus, with a half-completed thought as, abruptly, Haruka's voice came through.

Roland was absorbed in conversation at first, getting the details as to what was happening, and giving his own meager news. He moved back a bit from the bus a bit to get away from some chatter, probably in Arabic, without much thought. But he did notice a woman get off the bus and walk toward him, stopping a polite distance away, smiling and nodding. She was graying, but still quite attractive, if a bit weathered. Her bare arms showed some sinew, like, perhaps, someone who plays a lot of tennis. Her hands, a detail that Roland always noticed in any person, were classically proportioned, though her nails seemed cut a little short.

Roland finished his call. The woman spoke first. "You are Roland Descartes, aren't you?" She spoke in very good French.

Roland replied, "You have me. And you?"

"Renate. I have seen you perform many times. The first time, in Dresden."

"Dresden?" Roland exclaimed. "Why, I was not much older than Adrienne. You must have been an infant at the time."

The woman laughed. "You are a good liar, Mr. Descartes. Thank you."

"Ah, I wonder . . . " Roland continued, noticing a man getting off the bus and coming toward him. Not towering, but taller than Roland, and a way about him that suggested he could spring into action quickly. Roland had encountered enough such men before to recognize one. "Would you perhaps have a toilet on your bus? It has been a long wait."

The man fixed his black eyes on Roland as he came up alongside the woman. He said, "The toilet is out of order."

Roland chose some innocuous words. "Oh, that is bad. Bad for all of us, no?"

After a moment, the woman said, switching to English, "My fiance, Ahmed. This is Roland Descartes, the famous musician, Ahmed. He's here to perform at the White House. Or he was, I guess, until he got stuck with us."

"Pleased to meet you, sir," said Roland, extending a hand that was not taken. Withdrawing his hand, he said, "Don't presume. I was just talking with my wife, and she says the President and her guests have agreed to wait as long as midnight for me."

The woman said, "Perhaps you will perform after all."

Roland said, "I think so. The limousine I'm using has a special radio to check the emergency channels. They said they will have a lane cleared in half an hour."

The man smiled, an unsettling display.

Roland looked at his watch. "Oh, I'd better get back now. If the report was right, we should be moving in about ten minutes."

The man asked, "Which is your car, Mr. Descartes?"

Something compelled him to stay and try to comply with this request. "Well, it's fairly far . . . But you can see it, there, on that little rise. The white car just ahead of that tanker truck.

"Yes," said the man, drawing out the word. "Well, good fortune, Mr. Descartes. Perhaps we can share in it."

"Thank you." Roland walked away, slowly enough so as not to be insulting. <Arab men,> he thought. <So touchy about their women.> After passing a few cars, he moved to the side of the road and began jogging.

Watching Descartes walk away, "Renate" switched to Hungarian, a language none around would understand, including those on the bus. "His fortune is our fortune for now . . . we may still catch the ambassadors and the ministers."

"Ahmed" nodded, and mused, "Maybe . . . If his information was correct."

"It will be dark by then, of course," said Maria Horthy. "Do you think our new heroes here will be much good in the dark?"

Istvan Nagy shrugged. "Here comes the little colonel."

The man they knew as Colonel Sultan had emerged from their bus, with his two ever-present bodyguards. Maria Horthy wanted to shout at the man that he was making a foolish display with them, but knew it would be useless. She had met many Colonel Sultans by now.

Colonel Sultan came close enough to growl in Arabic, "Who was that man? Why were you talking with him?"

Maria Horthy smiled warmly, and said, "That man had some news for us." She explained what Descartes had said and what it implied without directly mentioning the operation until they had returned to the bus. Typically, Colonel Sultan would not accept any of her points until it had been confirmed by Istvan or another man.

White House, Washington, DC

For Kaidou-san, the performance after dinner was a relief. Seated with Yoko in the very first row, he was far ahead of Rei and didn't have to look at her. What Yoko was thinking, he didn't know, but she was behaving properly enough . . . for now.

Kaidou tried to concentrate on the performance, but there was too much on his mind. First there was anticipation of the informal period to follow, liable to be a long one as they waited for the Frenchman Descartes. This was the time for some of the unofficial diplomacy that really gets things done. The Minister would expect him to be sharp for this, but with Yoko here, as she was now . . . between her and old Hino-san, there were so many opportunities for embarassment. This was a critical night, a chance to make a mark as more than a faithful member of the party and the son-in-law of its head.

Despite himself, Kaidou also had thoughts of Rei herself. Rei had to his mind still been a child when he had taken Yoko as opportunity and wife. Rei was a fascinating girl he had grown quite fond of, but not a candidate for genuine romance, even if she had not been the daughter of his patron. Once her grandfather had recovered, that had been the end of it. Or that should have been the end of it. He made no contact with her, and as far as he knew, Rei had never tried to reach him. Hino-san had seldom mentioned his daughter thereafter, but he had hardly mentioned her before. But still, he remembered the girl, and he had never--

<Gods, no!> Rei's daughter had finished performing a piece with Descartes' older daughter, and now Rei had come up with her husband to stand with the girl while she was congratulated by the President and the other heavyweights. Hino-san joined them. But the Minister and the Ambassador were speaking, and Yoko remained silent. <For the moment.>

Kate Warfield eased into the action. With her own camera person, she would have been able to push forward, but all the photographers and media crew present were under White House contract. Besides, People liked to pretend to a higher level than the tabloid market. She noticed Minako Jones again, but filed that thought away as she approached the President. She managed to insert a question about a possible trade agreement. The Times and the Post representatives were cultural reporters and gave her corrective looks. Old Jack Crawford might have shown a tiny amount of real respect. The President replied without really saying much, and asked to be excused for a few minutes.

Once the President moved off, the crowd began breaking up. Michiru was the next most important in Kate Warfield's current estimation, so she focused on her. "You seem to have a lot of your friends here, Michiru. I remember some of your faces from our last interview, especially Minako Jones'."

Michiru answered, "Yes. The President was very kind to allow so many of my friends to come."

Kate couldn't resist sinking at least one hook in, so she added, raising her voice without realizing, "Yes . . . Of course, I remember Ms. Jones from before, when I interviewed Lisette Pinatabo."

That drew a reaction from Michiru, though she covered it well. From Jones too, which gave Warfield much more satisfaction. But she continued on, now that she had fixed her targets, mixing the important questions in with polite ones.

Hearing the name "Pinatabo," the President paused for a moment. She remembered the name from what she had thought of as the "angel briefing," before taking over from the previous administration. It is possible that the evening might have gone on quite differently from that point if Charles Sumpter had been at her side, or perhaps even Henry Uffizi. But the ministers from Japan and France were beside her as she left the East Room, and the incident was soon pushed far back in her mind.

Kaidou had decided to stick close to the Minister, his assigned duty and the better tactic for now. It would be better to be away from Yoko if she misbehaved. Thus, he missed the exchange between Michiru and the American reporter.

Yoko did not miss the exchange, and she noticed that Hino Rei reacted quite strongly. "Minako Jones," whoever she was, was important to Hino Rei, as was the business with the Pinatabo person. As for the reporter . . . such a person could be quite useful to know. When the reporter was finished with Michiru and her friends, Yoko introduced herself to the reporter and began a conversation. There would be time to deal with Hino Rei later . . .

Tysons Corner, Virginia
13 Miles from the White House

Istvan Nagy went through the final plan, mostly for the benefit of the people Colonel Sultan had brought in. Maria was really better at presentations like this, but with Sultan and his crew of "reliable" men, a woman was not a serious choice. He recapitulated, in Arabic now, without Sultan's questionable translation. "Remember, the first team must penetrate and secure this area before we proceed."

"You will follow my orders," added Colonel Sultan, and he began a harangue about the sins of America. Nagy doubted very much that the Colonel could win an engagement with a platoon of Girl Guides, but at least his men would obey him. That made it slightly more likely that this scheme would come off.

Hans, one of the demo men for tonight, had pulled down the floor plan and was burning it, a torn piece at a time so he did not make a big fire. "Where's Maria?" he asked.

"With the big computer man, I think."

The computer man called himself John. How he had contacted Sultan's people, Nagy hadn't a clue. But he was a gem, if he wasn't a plant. As he entered John's lair, he saw the proof on four monitor screens: direct feed from the White House surveillance cameras.

White House, Washington, DC

The wait for the French performer was a long one, but productive for Kaidou-san. Yamashita the idiot remained with the Ambassador, while the Minister spent most of his time with his French counterpart, and much of that with the American President as well. With Kaidou's help, the Minister made a very friendly impression without making any commitments.

Of course, there was Yoko to consider, and Kaidou now had the time to consider when the news came that Descartes had arrived.

Roland Descartes' had expected that his arrival at the White House would have been the end of his troubles for the evening. He barely had time to kiss Titania and Adrienne before a group of women approached. He recognized only one of them, mostly by her voice, for she had a bandaged, swollen nose. She was the pig of a reporter he had encountered during his stay with Haruka's and Michiru's friends. "Ah, Ms. Warfield! I remember you. You have been in an accident?" he asked, sounding concerned.

"I had a growth removed," she responded, clearly set off-balance.

"Not malignant, I hope?"

"No," replied Warfield.

"Thank goodness," Roland said, and then turned on his charm. "I'm afraid I don't know the rest of you lovely ladies." They introduced themselves; they were important wives. Then he regaled them with the story of the evening's misadventures, not giving the pig reporter a chance ask a question. He spun the tale out until the American President arrived, when he wrapped it up. "And then, when we finally were through the obstruction, our car was pulled over for speeding. The driver had too many tickets, so the police wouldn't let him drive. Neither Andrea or I have a permit good for the United States, so we had to wait for a taxi."

The American President asked, "Didn't you tell them you were coming here?"

Roland said, "Yes, but they said that made no difference. The police did get the taxi for us."

"Good for them," said the President. "The law is the same for the White House as elsewhere."

Roland smiled. "Of course, Madame President. The law is the same for me, as well."

The President excused Roland to prepare for his performance, and led most of the crowd into the East Room. While he was changing , he had time for a quiet word with Haruka. She did not have much to say, except about how the arrangements for the children were working. There was something on her mind, but he doubted the wisdom of getting it out of her. The relevant point was that Michiru would be busy with Amphitrite Marie for awhile longer, so he should start with a solo piece.

Yoko had not, after all, found time to properly attend to Hino Rei; she had always seemed to have friends around her. When the Frenchman began his performance, she thought that all her opportunities were used up. But when Michiru entered the East Room, she went to Hino Rei, and Hino Rei slipped out. All the rest of Michiru's crowd seemed to be in the East Room. Yoko decided to force the issue. When the next number finished, she excused herself and went off quickly, before Goro could react.

Yoko guessed Hino Rei had gone to the Blue Room, the nursery for tonight, and she was correct. Hino Rei was nursing her infant near the far end of the room. There were two other adults: an old woman dozing in a chair, and a younger one tending to one of the babies in one of the cribs. Yoko smiled politely at the younger one in passing; she did not remember meeting her. She was a gaijin, so Yoko did not give her much thought after passing her. Soon Yoko stood before Hino Rei, and waited to be acknowledged.

Hino Rei said, after a wait that seemed too long to be polite, "This is my younger daughter, Tomiko."

Yoko did not bother with a pointless compliment about the infant. She said, "I had you investigated once. The detectives told me some interesting things about you. They did not tell me about the child, but I guess your father fixed the records somehow."

After another telling pause Hino Rei asked, "What interesting things did your detectives tell you?"

Yoko said, "People at your school and around Hikawa Temple thought you were strange. They said strange things always seemed to be happening while you were there. Why, one person even thought you might be a witch."

Hino Rei said, "A witch? Do you think I have put some sort of spell on your husband?"

Yoko said, "Mother is a great believer in magic, but I never was. But you have put your spell on my husband."

Lorraine could not understand what Setsuna's friend and the other Japanese lady were saying, but hearing their talk made her feel creepy. She tried to keep her mind off that conversation. She finished changing little Atlas. <What a name! Why did these ladies give their children such wierd names? And why so many girls?> Among all of the many children of Setsuna and her friends, only four boys, and one of them adopted.

There was only one whimper requiring attention. It was a familiar one: Ikuko-chan's. Lorraine took her out of her crib, and left the Blue Room for the hall, before the whimper might become a wail and wake up other babies. "Come on, Ikuko-chan, it's all right. Sarah just fed you, so you can't be hungry now. Come on . . . Listen to the pretty music." In the hall, Lorraine could hear the music from the East Room, even through the closed doors.

Charles Sumpter shifted his weight, momentarily relieving his aching feet, and tried to look as if he were enjoying the performance. Looking at the little girl sleeping in Mrs. Descartes' arms, he found himself yawning. It had been a long day. The fence-jumping French burgler hadn't talked after all; in fact, he had lawyered up, and not with some novice public defender. Maybe it meant nothing, but with all the surprises today, it kept Sumpter on edge. Possibly he would have gone home by now if the fence jumper had talked.

Looking back in the audience, Sumpter saw quite a few more children sleeping or on the brink of sleep, and had to stifle another yawn. Some adults were lagging as well. The tall woman next to Minako Jones nudged her awake.

The two guards on duty at the Northwest gate that night were named Gerald Hall and Charles Morton. Hall had worked at the White House for seven years. Morton had less than two years experience at the Executive Mansion. They had both overqualified on their last trips to the shooting range, but neither had ever fired a shot at a live target. Hall had been on duty since six. Morton had just come on at ten; staggered shifts were the current policy.

A truck turned into the driveway. Its lights kept Hall and Morton from seeing any detail on the truck. Morton put his hand on his weapon. But the truck did not race forward; it braked to a halt for a moment, and then edged forward. Morton relaxed just a bit. When the truck drew up to the gatehouse and halted, it was Hall who called out, "What is your business at the Executive Mansion?" That phrase was another part of current policy. It was less inflammatory than "What the hell are you doing here?" In the clipped tones Hall used, though, much the same meaning was conveyed.

"Executive Mansion?" said the driver, a woman.

Hall said, "This is the White House, ma'am. Do you have authorized business here?"

"This is the White House?" said the woman. She had a foreign accent of some kind, just enough to be noticeable.

Hall said, "Yes, ma'am. If you don't have authorized business, you have to leave."

The woman said, "We have business. We came to make a delivery. We are sorry to be so late. Johnny, do you have the invoice? Give me the invoice."

Hall saw a man on the other side of the cab fumbling through papers on a clipboard. He cursed as the papers slipped out of the clip and dropped away.

"Johnny, hurry up! Ahhhh, let me do it," exclaimed the woman, bending down.

Morton said sotto voce, "It's a damn liquor delivery."

Hall waved him off, and continued in his official voice, "Ma'am, this is not a delivery entrance."

The woman sat up again, and said, "Oh? I'm sorry, we have never made a delivery here before. Are you sure we can't go on through from here?"

"No," said Hall, pointing north and turning that way without thinking as he explained, "Kitchen deliveries are always made on the other side. You'll have to back out, and then go right when you reach Fifteenth Street--"

At that point, two events happened very close together. First, the gate began to open, and Hall, hearing the noise, turned back. Second, the woman produced a silenced pistol and shot the guards, first Hall, then Morton. It was not the first time she had fired on live targets. The kevlar vests Hall and Morton wore with their uniforms did them no good, because she shot them both in the head.

Surveillance cameras picked up the event, but no one noticed in the monitor room. They didn't notice that the time stamps were were wrong on several screens, either . . .

Istvan Nagy picked up the mike and said, "Team One, go." Two men with sniper rifles came out the back, and the door closed behind them. Their mission was to cover the grounds while the rest proceeded in. Nagy had thought about using only one man, but had decided on two. Three or even four would have been better, but Nagy did not have unlimited manpower. He saw one of them give a "ready" signal in the mirror, and said to Maria Horthy, "Go ahead."

Just as Maria Horthy put the truck back in gear, the lights went out. "I thought our man John was going to give us one minute," she remarked flatly.

Istvan Nagy said, "Perhaps one of the guards sent an alarm?"

"I think not," said Maria, sounding a little offended.

Nagy was tempted to tell her to speed up, but that would attract attention. If they were stopped unexpectedly, it was better to play the part of lowly workers out of their element. Taking up his night vision goggles, he scanned the roof and the grounds for patrols.

"There's someone coming out," said Maria. The truck's lights illuminated the portico. Two people had come out the doors; guards. He was familiar with the current uniform, of course. <Why wasn't Team One taking them down?> They started coming down the steps . . . Time for another command decision. <Stop now and deploy the force?> No, the guards had not drawn their weapons; they didn't even have their hands on them.

They were drawing closer, and the guards were beginning to slip out of the headlights as the truck followed the curving driveway to the portico. Nagy quickly put down the goggles and grabbed his portable spotlight. He shined it on a guard. The man called out something. As they pulled alongside, Nagy called out, "Excuse me, sir. We are very late."

The second guard said, "What are you doing here?" This one was a woman.

Nagy stepped down out of the truck when he noticed that Maria was doing the same. He left his pistol; it was too bulky with the silencer to slip into his pants. Instead, he armed himself with clipboard and spotlight, and made a lot of commotion, the better to keep their attention off Maria. But perhaps he made too much commotion; two more guards came out. He made a show of looking through the papers, and when all four of the guards came down, he dropped them "accidentally." Two of them helpfully bent down to help him retrieve them. That is when Maria shot them, perhaps with some help from Team One. It was a virtuoso performance, whoever did it; they were all down before they could use their weapons, without an unsilenced shot. Nagy rapped out the signal on the side of the truck, and the mission force came pouring out. Nagy went with them, unarmed and without his night vision equipment. There was no time for that: the next minute or so would probably decide if the mission would succeed or fail, and every second counted.

The East Room was filled with exclamations when the lights went out, but Roland Descartes, totally focused on his performance as always, went on playing. It wasn't the first time he had experienced a power failure during a performance. In fact, in Dresden, so long ago, in what was then East Germany, he had played out half his concert by the light of kerosene lamps.

He uttered only one word, "Michiru," reminding her to start playing again. He kept on playing, ignoring the increasing commotion, until . . .

When the lights went out, Lorraine was in the Green Room, on her way to find Sarah, because little Ikuko was just not going to be satisfied. By emerging from the Green Room, Lorraine hoped she could more discretely attract Sarah's attention than from the door to the hall, which was much closer to the performers, the President, and the other big shots. Lorraine bumped into some furniture. Someone called out, and Lorraine responded, "Ishtar?"

"No, I'm Kimi. Oh, I hear them playing. Sarah should have woke me up. She promised . . . what time is it? When did they turn out the lights?"

Lorraine said, "Just now, dear. It must be some kind of mistake, I think. Someone didn't get the word, I suppose." Lorraine heard her move, and said, "Don't try to get up."

Kimi said, "That's all right. I can see pretty well. You have Ikuko-chan again."

Lorraine said, "Yes, I was going to get Sarah. You were right; it's either Sarah or your mother for this one."

"I'll go get Sarah," said Kimi.

Lorraine heard Kimi getting up and moving. Lorraine's eyes were beginning to adjust; she could see the door opening--barely, because the East Room beyond was dark, too, though with its many windows on three sides it was somewhat less dark than the comparatively small Green Room. Lorraine started for the doorway.

When the lights went out, Yoko was still talking with Hino Rei at the south end of the Blue Room, which forms the interior of the South Portico on the main floor. The windows picked up enough ambient light from the outside so that in a moment she could make out the form of her adversary, still quietly nursing. She made a polite joke: "Someone should have reminded the American President to pay the electric bill."

"Perhaps," replied Hino Rei flatly.

Yoko could wait no longer. "I will come to my most important question. Is there a possibility that my husband is the father of your first child?"

Hino Rei said, "No, there is no such possibility. My Yuuichirou is Deja's father."

Yoko said, "So you may say now. I could see your husband is very fond of the child. But what claim may she make in the future?"

Rei found it difficult to hold her anger at Kaidou's wife, but she swallowed it. She could not, of course, tell the woman the real truth, of the years she had spent in the world of the Grey Lady, making Deja older here than she should be. But what to tell her? The wife had to be appeased, if not for Kaidou's sake, then for her family. This one would keep asking questions. Rei finally said, "If I wanted to take Kaidou-san away from you, and if he was her father, don't you think I would have told him about Deja long ago?"

Yoko said, "That does not matter now. What matters is that I am sure and my husband is sure that he is not her father. Will you agree to a genetic test?"

Rei said, "No. I will not subject Deja to that."

There was a great commotion, with heavy shoes coming down on the floor. The far door opened, and people began coming in. Yoko was standing before Rei, so Rei was not able to really see what was going on. Male voices cried out, "Don't move!" and "Quiet!" when Yoko began to protest. Something was wrong, and Rei knew it, but she didn't know what, and she had Tomiko in her arms, and she couldn't see the noisy men very well, and she wasn't sure they were enemies. For these reasons, Rei did not transform. Then, when two of them came close, it was too late. She could see their guns, and that they were wearing bulky goggles--those she had seen before, in the war between the Jones gang and their enemies. It meant they could see in the dark better than her. If she transformed, they would probably fire . . . and she had Tomiko in her arms . . .

The East Room is and always has been the largest room in the White House. It spans the width of the mansion, north to south, with tall windows set in three of its four walls. All its doors are set in the western wall.

When the lights went out, the President was surprised, but hardly panicked, especially as the pianist kept playing. When Uffizi made his way to her side and suggested she leave as a precaution, she declined.

Charles Sumpter spent the first moments after the lights went out listening to his ear pickup. It was a cacophany; everyone seemed to be calling at once. He was tempted to override the watch commander when radio discipline was not quickly restored, but he did not use his transmitter . . . though he did take it out.

Team One was accomplishing its mission. By the time their comrades entered the White House, they had used their silenced rifles to eliminate the guards at the Northwest gate, one guard patrolling the perimeter fence, and perhaps two of the hapless guards who had been duped into helping the wayward delivery man.

Everyone awake in the East Room noticed the increasing noise as Nagy and his mission force entered the White House and spread out to their assigned areas. They heard shouting from the Blue Room, but not the words. At that point, Uffizi drew his gun, and Charles Sumpter transmitted, "Possible intruders--

At that moment, Nagy began leading his men into the East Room. He called out, "Attention! Attention! Listen carefully, all of you! Do not move! Do not talk! Listen to me and no one will be harmed! We have automatic weapons and explosives, and we can see you quite clearly! You cannot fight us!" He flashed his spotlight rapidly around to demonstrate that his men were indeed armed and ready; then he turned it on the occupants. "Now, listen carefully. I want everyone who has a gun to slowly raise his hands. Don't put down your weapon if you are holding it. Just raise your hands slowly, and wait for one of us to collect your weapon. Please, raise your hands if you have a weapon. If we discover a weapon on anyone later, I am afraid someone will have to be shot. Now, people with weapons, raise your hands high, keep them high, and just wait."

Charles Sumpter said nothing, and raised his hands--but he kept the send button pressed. Everyone monitoring the security frequency caught at least some of Nagy's speech.

Sarah Uer had grown up a lot in the last months even if she was only two millimeters taller. Six months before, she would have likely transformed and started blasting the instant she was aware of the enemy. But almost losing Kimi had been sobering. Now, she had Kimi with her. Kimi had not transformed into a senshi since the night Mika had been kidnapped; perhaps she was not strong enough. Perhaps she never would be strong enough . . .

When the shouts came from the Blue Room, Sarah had just taken little Ikuko from Setsuna's nursemaid. Kimi called out, "There are men in the room with the babies!"

"Cover your eye!" said Sarah. Some flashlight beams were flitting about the room.

Then Nagy came in, and Sarah heard him. As he spoke, more men came through the nearby doors from the Green Room. There was nothing Sarah could do . . . yet. So could be said of the other senshi.

To Nagy's relief, Maria Horthy showed up with his pistol and bullhorn. The latter was more appreciated, for his voice was somewhat strained after so many days of "earnest discussion" with Colonel Sultan. Maria also had news. "Sultan is only a few blocks away. Also, Klaus heard your little speech on their command channel. Someone in here is clever."

"Probably that one," said Nagy, pointing the beam at Sumpter, who hadn't been processed yet. Then he returned the beam to the clot of obvious Secret Service agents, and called out in English, "Madame President, don't be shy. Please, join us."

The President had never encountered an armed threat personally. She was not a coward, but she was not a natural soldier, either, so the shock of the event had rendered her incapable. But now she began to recover. She rose, and said, "You have me. Why not let the others go?"

Nagy said, "That idea appeals to me. But such things will remain for future negotiation. Now, let us get acquainted with some of your guests. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Descartes earlier, but everyone else is a stranger."

Chiba Usagi was still sleeping, dreaming the ballroom dream again. This time the floor was parquet, just like the East Room.

Charles Sumpter's clever use of his radio had saved lives--the men Nagy had posted to guard the stairways had grenades and instructions to drop them on anyone trying to come up. It was close--a deaf janitor was almost at the back stairs when a more informed man stopped him. On the other hand, because there were no explosions or loud gunfire, Usagi slept on while Colonel Sultan and his men arrived. Had she been awake, she well might have seen and heard the bus with its armed men, and done something rather drastic to them. But Usagi slept on while the men piled out of the bus. Some of them went inside right away, while others helped unload the van. Soon enough, all of them were inside, while Usagi continued her sleep.

Meanwhile, the DC police were just beginning to respond. Another one of hacker John's contributions to the evening at the White House was a clever finesse to the phone system: he had redirected all outgoing calls to a phone booth in Langley, Virginia. It took several minutes for someone to get a cellphone, get through to 911, and convince the operator that it really was the White House.

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