|A Year and Change|
Maria spoke to him. "Colonel. Colonel."
"What is it?" asked Nagy, not quite released from his dreams. Maria's gown was presently replaced by the shirt-and-slacks she had donned before driving the truck to the White House.
"Time to get up. Commander Sargon wants you again," said Major Horthy, emphasizing and perhaps satirizing Sultan's new identity by drawing out the words.
Yawning, Nagy checked his watch. He'd been asleep for nearly five hours. "You should have wakened me sooner. What's been happening?"
"The Americans have declared martial law," said Horthy, "and Major Baiburs' man has died."
Neither event surprised Nagy. He yawned again, deciding not to tell Maria about his strange dreams.
8:06 pm EDT
Sultan asked Nagy, "Colonel Nur, what do you think this implies for us?"
Nagy had noticed that Sultan was being very formal and very polite--notably to Fahd, but also noticeably to himself. He responded in the same way. "Commander, with martial law and now the curfew, they will be able to clear the streets and move in more forces. They can also get the reporters out. While neither of these steps is really necessary in a military sense, since they already have many armed men surrounding us, it may make them feel more confident to move against us."
"Yes, it could mean that," said Sultan. "Are there other interpretations?"
Nagy aimed his words more at Fahd than anyone else. "These are gestures that make their Vice President look strong. That is certainly one thing he will consider. Perhaps it is the only thing he means by them. There is also the practical consideration of crime. With so many police here, criminals in other parts of the city will think of taking advantage. The implied severity of martial law and the curfew will discourage some of them. Perhaps more important to their Vice President, he will be seen as taking strong measures for the safety of his law-abiding citizens."
"What is the most likely interpretation?" asked Sultan, sounding very much like a professor--that was a persona he used a lot now, Nagy noticed, and he wondered if it said something about his background. "In your opinion, Colonel."
Nagy replied, "I think their Vice President has taken this act primarily to show that he is in command now. I doubt very much if he has decided to attack us, but he will have advisors pointing out to him that he will now have more freedom to move on us."
Baiburs muttered something, and Sultan picked up the remote. He was still glancing at the television, though the sound was muted.
Sultan said, "If you were with the Americans, Colonel, when and where would you attack us?"
Nagy said, "As I have said before, the best time would be during the evacuation. That is why I want it to be in daylight."
"Why not attack us here, Colonel?" asked Sultan. "You would have plans to every square centimeter."
Again, Nagy addressed himself to Fahd's concerns. "This is one of their greatest national symbols. They will not want to damage it. Even if they are willing to damage this place, the more force they use, the more likely they will harm their own people, so they will be unlikely to use more than infantry weapons. Given that limitation, they cannot overcome us before we can kill the prisoners. They know how harshly we have dealt with women and children, thanks to Major Baiburs. They will assume we will be as hard or harder with their men."
Nagy paused long enough to make a coda, and then added, "Ambushing us along the evacuation route is the smarter move, but it has little chance of succeeding. In Munich in 1972, German spetsnaz1, perhaps the finest in the world at the time, tried to free Israeli prisoners from quite poorly trained and equipped Palestinian fighters during a similar evacuation, at night. All the prisoners died. We are a many times more effective force."
Sultan waited for Nagy to finish, and then said, "Thank you, Colonel. Major Fahd, you may go." Then he picked up the remote and brought up a recorded portion, freezing the first frame. "Colonel Nur, this is one of the medical women. What do you know of her?"
Nagy shook his head. "I don't recognize her. Who is she?"
Baiburs said, "This one is named Mizuno. She is a doctor, she speaks Arabic, and three of the children belonged to her. We also have her husband."
Nagy said, "The others all asked for her. The other mothers, that is, including Michiru."
Sultan started the clip. "--tured here with her mother at the African Medical Assistance Society conference in Capetown, South Africa last year. The elder Dr. Mizuno, Vice-Chairman of the AMAS, is reported to be on her way to the United States from Chad. Dr. Mizuno's husband, Kurume Suuri, is the president of Mercurius, a California-based computer techology firm with a current stock value of--"
Sultan switched off the recording and killed the sound again. He lit up a cigarette--not one of his special ones, Nagy noticed. After a couple of puffs he said, "Major Baiburs, bring that one here. Bring all of the women."
Sultan continued to watch the television and smoke for awhile. Nagy asked, "May I return to my post?"
"No. Not yet. I'm not finished with you . . . The American television seems to be acting in our favor."
"In our favor?" Nagy was startled.
"In the military sense, Colonel," said Sultan. "All those cameras out there are showing us what the Americans are doing. We must remind the Americans how much we love their television and how much we want to go on watching. In your next communication with them, tell them we will take any measures to restrict press coverage in the area under martial law to be suspicious actions."
Nagy said, "We can't rely on their television even if they let their reporters roam freely."
"No. I have other resources," said Sultan. "But you will agree that their television is useful to us?"
"Yes," said Nagy. He let the matter drop.
Sultan was smoking his second cigarette before he spoke again. "I appreciate the way you explained things to Major Fahd. What is your unbiased assessment of the situation for tonight? What do you think the chances are that the Americans will assault us?"
Nagy replied, "There is always the possibility that their Vice President will be foolishly aggressive, or that he will be persuaded by someone who is. Someone could act on his own. Even a firearms accident by one of our men could provoke a spontaneous assault. Major Fahd has taken steps to ensure that his less experienced men do not cause this problem, but it happens among the best troops." Nagy shrugged. "But the Americans believe they have two days now. The time for hasty action was last night. They could launch a coordinated action tonight, but they could launch a more coordinated attack tomorrow night. All in all, we should be safer tonight than last night or tomorrow night."
Sultan turned away from the screen to face him. "We should be safer, you say. But do you feel differently?"
"I don't feel complacent." Nagy shrugged again. "I am spetznaz. My work is raiding, gathering tactical intelligence, ambushing. I know how to defend a position, but I don't like doing it. The defender has to be ready at all times. The attacker can pick his time." Nagy paused a moment, and allowed himself to smile. "And maybe my Gypsy blood is telling me something."
Sultan said, "I thought you were raised without such superstitions." Then he turned back to the television. Nagy waited in silence, watching the screen because there was nothing more productive to do.
Baiburs returned with two guards and the three women. They were bound again, with the cable ties Sultan had purchased in abundance on his prior visit. Sultan glanced at them and said, "Unbind them" in Arabic. Then he returned to the television.
After Baiburs complied, he asked, "Do you want me to stay?"
Sultan replied, without looking: "No. Return to your duties. Take your men."
Baiburs and his men left, leaving the three women standing in a row. Sultan paid the women no attention for the moment. Nagy examined them silently. They were all in gowns, which were now richly stained, mostly with blood. Nagy knew blood when he saw it, and smelled it. They did not seem wounded, though, and he gathered it had belonged to their late patient.
Delivering the demands had put Anne Kerkorian near the top of the American pyramid of power in midafternoon. After the Vice President actually arrived, it was clear her position had eroded. She and the Bureau had acted swiftly, and were to be commended. What can you do for us now?
The answer was: not much, compared with what other agencies were offering. The Bureau could not really compete with the force options the military was offering the Vice President. The State Department offered assistance and advice on prying loose the prisoners to be exchanged. What the Bureau had to offer now was mostly the promise of further intelligence about the terrorists. But it couldn't offer any more now . . .
Anne Kerkorian had made her excuses and left the Pentagon, rather than simply stand by the Vice President inneffectually, hour on hour.
It was now that the Acting Director saw and regretted her oversight in not clearly establishing FBI control over the released hostages immediately. The French and Japanese parties had all repaired to their respective embassies (and, no doubt, intelligence officers). The minor members of the White House staff had accepted the Mayor's hospitality. Even Jean Lawrence had been allowed to leave the Hoover building, from where she had gone straight to the Vice President. All the Bureau had in even the most tenuous of grasps were Michiru and her guests, still at University Hospital.
Ann Kerkorian called the the Special Agent in charge at the hospital. "Any new progress to report, Mr. Ruthen?"
Ruthen replied, "Not very much. We did get drawings of some of them, but they won't be much good for us. These guys ain't local talent. Joe Blow from Kokomo ain't gonna call in and say, 'Yeah, I know this guy.'"
"Joe Blow from Baghdad might, once we get them on CNN," the Acting Director retorted, "Mr. Ruthen, how did you keep Michiru and her friends from leaving?"
"We didn't," Ruthen replied. "I think they were waiting to see if Mrs. Chiba could leave."
"Ms. Chiba?" Kerkorian inquired using the honorific prescribed by current policy--something Ruthen hardly ever did.
"Mrs. Chiba is the one in the wheelchair, the one who was upstairs when the terrorists took over," said Special Agent Ruthen. "The docs gave her something that knocked her out pretty soon after she came in. She's awake now, though."
"Is she coherent?" Kerkorian remembered the interrogation report.
"I don't know," replied Ruthen, "They won't let us see her."
Anne Kerkorian asked, "Who are 'they?' Do you mean the medical staff?"
"No, it's more like the other hostages," Ruthen replied, "They protect Mrs. Chiba like she was their queen bee."
"They do, do they?" mused Kerkorian. The Acting Director thought for a moment or two. Ms. Chiba was the hostage in the position to see more than any of the others. Her interrogation had not been complete; she might know more. She was not that far away at University Hospital; it was two miles or so from the Hoover2. Finally Anne Kerkorian said, "Mr. Ruthen, maybe a woman's touch would help. I'm coming over."
The man Nagy knew as Colonel Sultan deigned to look at the women again after a suitable wait. He noted that Nagy had not spoken to them, perhaps a good sign. They did not speak, a much better sign; Baiburs' conditioning was effective.
Sultan recognized the Mizuno woman. She seemed the most composed. She did not stare at him, but she did not look away, either. She had deduced that he was the leader. The other two seemed of less importance. The one who had colored her hair blond might be the same as someone he had seen on television. But that might be the one in the wheelchair in healthier times, or someone else altogether. The third one had eschewed dyes or wigs and colored contact lenses: she had black hair and dark brown eyes. But she also was buxom, with generous hips, and a sharply-chiseled nose. She reminded him of some women he had known in Turkestan. Not her manner, though. She stared right back at him.
Sultan said, "You, in the middle. Who are you?"
"Dr. Han," she answered.
Sultan said, "We allowed you to treat one of our men. He has died. Why?"
Dr. Han replied, "I think primarily through blood loss. We stopped the major internal bleeding, but he had lost much blood already. Plasma was not enough to make up the difference. If you had sent him to a hospital, a blood transfusion might have saved him. Or at least he would have had a better chance."
Sultan turned back to the television. After a few moments, without turning back, he said, "Dr. Mizuno, you seem to be of some reputation. Why was our man sick?"
Dr. Mizuno said, "I have never treated a case like his. I remember nothing in medical literature quite like it."
"You told Major Baiburs that it resembled ebola fever," said Sultan. "Dr. Han said something about 'radiation poisoning.' Those are alarming diagnoses."
Dr. Mizuno said, "They were plausible diagnoses, given the symptoms. Since we don't have facilities for analyzing clinical specimens, or for detecting radioactivity, they remain plausible diagnoses. Whatever it was, it damaged several of his organs. The spleen and bladder were ruptured; there was generalized damage to his intestines. I suspect that the liver and pancreas may have also been affected, but I cannot be sure without an autopsy."
Sultan said, "Major Baiburs thinks you may have chosen your diagnosis in order to alarm us, Dr. Mizuno. Colonel Nur, what do you think of this?"
Nagy said, in Arabic, "My people have all been vaccinated against the African diseases."
Nagy had forgotten that Mizuno could speak Arabic. Dr Mizuno said, "This could be a new strain, or a non-African disease. I have seen a strain of ebola cause damage that was something like this. Infections are not my specialty. I am a surgeon."
Sultan said, "The rest of us must take our chances. We could ask for vaccines and drugs, but of course, we couldn't trust what the Americans give us. And I am afraid, Dr. Mizuno, that I cannot allow you to warn the people outside because many of my people are watching and listening to the media. I will not alarm them, since there is nothing I can do for them without compromising our mission. Colonel Nur?"
"Take these women out onto the balcony." Sultan turned to the women. "You will remain on the balcony until someone orders you to leave. Do not speak again without permission. I will not tolerate any further attempt to undermine the morale of our force."
Nagy guided the women to the balcony. The Yellow Room was empty, and so was the balcony it opened to on the southern end. That irritated Nagy; the balcony was a good place to check for infiltrators keeping close to the south wall, where the patrols and the roof pickets might conceivably miss them. He had asked Fahd to take care of it during the day. Probably he had ordered someone here . . . perhaps the man was just at the latrine, a forgiveable offense with the kind of material Fahd had brought.
"Look out, please. We want your faces to be seen." Nagy took a last look around himself, and he remembered the last mother he had released, the one that had reminded him vaguely of his own mother, the one that had persuaded him to release the rest of the children. He said, "I released your children this afternoon."
"We know," said the blond one. "The woman Major told us."
"She told our guard she would kill him if he told Major Baiburs," said Dr. Mizuno.
"I did not give you permission to speak," said Nagy.
Nagy returned to find Sultan still watching television. Sultan said, "I know about the ebola rumors. Do you think I should be charitable and tell the Americans?"
Nagy was uncertain how to play this. "You are making a joke, Commander?"
Sultan said, "Not necessarily. We already have rumors of ebola. Why not give the Americans the same worries?"
Nagy thought a moment, and replied, "If the Americans believe it, it gives them extra incentive to act against us quickly. Even if their government does not believe it, they could use it as an excuse to justify action. And if this gets on their media, Major Fahd's men are going to hear of it. It will confirm their fears."
Ginger Han turned around and whispered, "There's nobody behind us. Why don't you guys take off?"
Minako said, "They have men down on the grounds, and probably men watching from the roof. Plus, the television is probably showing us already."
Ginger said, "Go inside and change. Then they won't know it's you."
Ami said, "Mina-chan, do it, and take Gin-chan. I will stay."
But then a man with a rifle entered the Yellow Room and headed straight for them. It was the man Major Fahd had assigned to the balcony. He yelled at them in Arabic, for he had no other language, and he made such a racket that not only Nagy but Sultan emerged to investigate. Sultan excortiated the man for leaving his post without permission. Then he said, "You will stay out there, with the women, until you are relieved." Then Sultan said a few words to Nagy, who left, and Sultan returned to the Monroe Room.
Ginger Han understood none of this, for she had no Arabic.
Then it was quiet for awhile. Nobody talked after the man made his initial speech. Ami did not translate it. The man walked back and forth around the balcony, slowly. He was an older man, with a lot of gray showing in his mustache and hair. After awhile, Ginger noticed that he always looked away when she looked at him, and that he gave them a wide berth when passing them. He did not seem very formidable, after seeing him for awhile, and certainly not like Baiburs' men.
However, a man soon appeared in the Yellow Room who looked very formidable. He stood outside the door to the room where they had talked with Colonel Nur and the man who seemed to be the overall leader.
Outside, a beautiful day was ending. The sun cast longer and longer shadows across the South Lawn. The air was very clear. Ginger Han could see across the Potomac quite a few trucks with dishes, which meant that cameras were thick out there, no doubt with telephoto lenses. They could be capturing the last image of herself alive that Lily would ever see.
She mused about her parents. She hadn't specified custody in her will. She hadn't really thought about it until now. Would they contest custody with Mamoru? They adored Lily; she was a bigger part of their lives than Ginger had ever been. What would be best for Lily? She was a senshi; no escaping that. But her parents might give Lily at least a few more years as just a girl . . . <No, she's too much like her dad. Like Kimi . . . > Ginger Han shuddered.
<Get hold of yourself, Ginny. These clowns know if they start killing hostages, so many guys with guns are going to come after them it will look like the Super Bowl. And what they don't know . . . >
1. Spetznaz is Russian military jargon for special forces. They were the most elite troops in the former Soviet army. Some of them worked for the GRU, Soviet Military Intelligence. Nagy naturally refers to commandos from other countries as spetznaz. The incident in Munich in 1972 really happened. Back
2. "The Hoover" is the J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI headquarters since the middle 1970's. I invented this slang phrase for it. Given Hoover's relentless and expensive pursuit of Martin Luther King and other people who didn't suit his politics and prejudices, there is a lot of sentiment for changing the name of the building, but it hasn't happened yet in our world or in Sailor Moon's. Interestingly, the White House is almost exactly halfway between FBI headquarters and the George Washington University Hospital, the real prototype for my fictional "University Hospital," both buildings being about a mile away from the Executive Mansion and close to Pennsylvania Avenue. Back
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