|A Year and Change|
The Grey Lady worked more of her magic, including some words and gestures Sailor Moon half-remembered Naru using, but faster, smoother. Then she sighed. "I have discovered your task. It was what you intended to do when you made the link. You have to find Fazi al Kaukji and find out from him about the bomb. You must have activated the ginzuishou unconsciously when you tried to find Fazi, and it brought you here and bound you to that task."
"What is this ginzuishou you keep speaking of?"
"Something that makes an h-bomb look like a firecracker," said the Grey Lady. She shook her head.
"Then we must look for him?" asked Sailor Moon, now in her rainbow-winged form.
"No. I told you that you don't belong here. If you stay much longer, your links to your lives will sever. You would never find Fazi in time, and you could easily get so lost I could not find you in time." The Grey Lady shook her head. "If only Fazi were Chinese. I am on very good terms with most of the important Magistrates of Ghosts. We will have to do something else."
She pulled two feathers from her hair, black ones, wincing as she did so. After more incantations and gestures, she tossed them into the air. They went up into the darkness . . .
And two more-than-man-sized things came down from the darkness, landing nimbly on their three-toed feet. They came to the Grey Lady, and bowed their heads to her. She reached out to pat the black-feathered, large-eyed creatures. Then she spoke an arcane command, and they bounded off into the darkness.
"What in the devil were those?" asked Nagy.
"Troodon Arteminski," said the Grey Lady. "They haven't been discovered by your people. Perhaps they did not evolve in your line."
" . . . announcement, there are reports of new accidents along many of the main roads leading out of the Washington/Alexandria area . . ."
Like Sultan, Baiburs always seemed to have the television on, though he was not watching it as Maria Horthy stepped in to the Monroe Office. Baiburs was reading a book, and he did not look up from it. Sergeiev, now the second rank with Beriev gone, requested attention by bringing the butt of his assault rifle down on the antique desk, adding more distress to the wood.
Baiburs peered up over his half-frame reading glasses and said, "Is there something you wish to discuss?"
"Is it real?" demanded Horthy.
"The device? Yes, it is real." Baiburs closed his book and set it aside. "Fascinating. This is the journal of an English officer from two centuries ago. He was in the army that took this city and burned the public buildings. Later he fought in the revolutionary wars in South America, and eventually became one of Mehmet Ali's officers. Possibly he could be an ancestor of mine through my mother."
"We can discuss your family history some other time," said Horthy. "Why have you kept this secret from us? If you have a real bomb, why do you even need us?"
"We chose you to make certain we could bring the device here," said Baiburs. "And also to present a more international face to America and the world. You have performed both tasks well, and you will be rewarded."
"In heaven?" said Sergeiev.
"Perhaps, but I was speaking of the here and now," said Baiburs smoothly. "If the Americans or their djinn friends attack us again and threaten to overwhelm us, I will set off the device."
Horthy said, "We did not sign on for a glorious death."
Baiburs said, "I myself would very much like to live on, if I can do it and accomplish my mission."
"And what is your mission?" Horthy said.
"What it always was, too pull the teeth of the American monster," said Baiburs, betraying some real feeling, perhaps. "After this, they will think more carefully before they send in their cruise missiles and stealth bombers and their Rapid Deployment Force."
"You actually intend to set it off," said Horthy, perhaps as much to herself as Baiburs. "You would not have brought a working bomb if you were not sure you would use it. The Americans would never let you take it away with you."
Baiburs pulled off his reading glasses and put them carefully in their case. "I think I will be handling negotiations with the Americans personally from now on, Major."
Maria Horthy drew her pistol and put it to Baiburs' temple. He did not flinch, or resist. Instead he said, "We also anticipated this problem, Major. If you want to survive, put that weapon away."
Maria was already beginning to squeeze the trigger, but she eased off. "Just why do we need to worry about you? Your men are scum. Even if they would fight to avenge you, we would swat them down like so many flies."
"The device can be detonated by radio. There is a very dedicated man outside who calls me at random intervals. If he can't reach me, he will send the detonation signal. He almost did when the Commander was killed. It was a closer thing than you knew."
"You are lying," said Horthy.
"No, it is the truth," said Baiburs without a trace of disturbance. "There is also a timer on the device which is set to quite a short interval now. If I don't periodically enter a code--a different code each time, incidentally--the device will detonate at the end of the next interval. With the Commander gone, I am the only one who has memorized the codes to handle the device. There is no codebook, although there is a sham codebook for the Americans to find. It is, of course, a trap."
"Now if you assume," continued Baiburs, "That the device is a sham, or that my confederate will not or cannot detonate it, or that you can disarm it in time, there is one more thing to consider. If you look in my briefcase over there, you will find a folder sealed with green tape. I think you will find some interesting things in it. Particularly you, Major."
General Brinkman returned to the situation room bearing news. "They have a new man talking to the negotiators now. 'Second Commander Baiburs.' Whether or not he's the same as the 'Major Baiburs' the hostages talked about he won't say."
General Thysson said, "Internal dissension?"
Brinkman shrugged. "It's possible. Nothing bad enough to provoke gunfire, that we would have picked up. But the laser mikes are useless; have been since about seven, so we won't be picking up any more conversation; the windows are vibrating too much. Wind's up to thirty knots now, gusts up to sixty. Power's out in a lot of places now; the negotiators warned them about it."
"What are they saying now?" asked the President.
"They regret we have chosen to violate their terms once again, blah blah blah. After the propaganda line, though, Baiburs said that our proposal for a longer ground evacuation was quote 'of interest considering the circumstance of the storm' unquote. Whoever he is, he speaks a very polished English."
The President took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment, eyes closed. "How bad is the situation on the roads."
Karol Tesla, the head of the Department of Defense, said, "Abysmal. All the major outlets from the District are now blocked. Considering the fallout pattern from a five to ten megaton groundburst which will be directed inland by the storm, these people are attempting a worse than futile action. As the good mayor warned, many are running out of gasoline already. We can expect dozens, perhaps hundreds of fatalities from exposure; thousands requiring medical care. The ones on foot, most of them seem to be ready to take shelter, at least according to the reports I've heard."
The President asked, "Is the panic getting worse?"
"I don't think so, Madame President," said Tesla. "The real panickers, they have already gone. The ones that are prudent enough to make some preparations, I think they largely see that it is pointless to flee now. At least if they are watching television or listening to radio news reports. We have been using the Emergency Broadcast System to frequently update the situation in case the commercial stations miss something."
"Thank you," said the President. "General Thysson, that long look on your face indicates to me that you want to say something. What is it?"
"Madame President," said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, "I think you should consider the option I spoke to you about. The terrorists seem to be unstable. Another change in leadership might put someone in charge who wants to detonate their device. And if we act now, at least some of the people out there may be able to return home before the storm makes it impossible."
"But there is still the chance that option could set off the bomb, isn't there, General?"
"Madame President," said General Thysson, "I think that if the device is real, the terrorist leadership plan to set it off no matter what we do."
"That doesn't fit the profile for Nagy, the man who led the takeover," said Buonnarti, the CIA Director. "Not unless he's had some sort of conversion. He's been a strictly bottom-line merc. He's done some high-risk stuff, but deliberate suicide? No."
Glancing at the President, General Thysson said, "It is quite possible Colonel Nagy and his troops were not briefed about the device. At any rate, Colonel Nagy doesn't seem to be in charge now."
"I still say their so-called device is a hoax," said Pfinney, the Secretary of Energy--among his responsiblities was the design, production, and maintenance of the U.S. nuclear aresenal. "If they had a working thermonuclear weapon, they could have just parked it somewhere in town. And anyway, this isn't the best target. Why not one of our power reactors? Much easier targets, and much more lasting damage."
"I agree," said Tesla. "This whole operation seems like a crackpot scheme. Still, Dr. Contini was very convincing. He describes a working design for a weapon. And with the elaborate system of traps, clearly they foresaw us attempting to disarm it."
"Maybe they figure it will take us long enough trying to disarm it that we won't know it's a fake until after they get away," suggested Pfinney. "We won't be able to make a detailed analysis of the device until it is disarmed."
"Or we set it off trying to disarm it," said Thysson. "Mr. Buonnarti, assuming the device is real, how would you view the terrorists."
"If it's real," said Buonnarti, "Then they ain't terrorists. Pony nukes are one thing, but a thermonuclear weapon is not something you can build in someone's garage." Buonnarti grew thoughtful. "If it is real . . . This scheme of theirs does make some sense. The real backers, they can just say these people were madmen, nothing to do with them. Al Kaukji gives us a link to Iraq, but he's worked with others. He's deniable."
Pfinney protested, "This overblown scheme of theirs may have worked somehow, but how can you say it makes sense?" He tapped his old West Point ring on the table. "I'm not ignorant of basic strategy, you know."
"Yes," said Tesla, "The plan of the terrorists seems totally irrational to me if they possess a real weapon."
"As a military operation, I'm sure it is nonsense," said Buonnarti. "But politically, it isn't. So far the enemy has managed to portray themselves fairly well, worldwide. Kaukji did a good job of denying responsibility for the brutality against the hostages. Their demands have been realistic, and they have shown forebearance--no hostage executions they admit to. They've claimed all the hostage fatilities were caused by our actions."
"Nonsense," said Thysson. "None of the so-called senshi use firearms. Our forces didn't fire a shot."
"I'm not accusing you, General," said Buonnarti. "They are lying. But their lie is being broadcast and printed now, and a lot of people will believe it--even here."
"Do you have any special point to your speculations, Director Buonnarti?" asked the President.
"Yes, Madame President," said Buonnarti. "If the weapon is real, the backers intend to use it. If possible, they will have some way to control the weapon that is beyond the control of their people inside the White House. We may gain more time by cooperating with them now, but now my advice is the same as General Thysson's. I take it this option involves our new friends?"
All eyes were on the President. At length, she said, "Your advice is well-taken. But I am going to wait, for now. We may have other options later."
Major Vierhofen asked Seerabesu, "What language are they speaking?"
"It is the Old Tongue--" Besu started to explain, before Sere cut her off.
"It is the old language of the North," said Sere. "Very few can still speak it. Most Northerners speak only Japanese. The ones that still can speak it, most of them do not use it around strangers."
"Can you tell me what they are saying?" he asked Besu.
"No," said Sere.
"Uranus, Neptune, Saturn, you may assist with the rescue efforts," said Sailor Venus. "But first, you should help get Mars home. With the help of the Asatara, we have enough power to launch our Planet Attack if we need to."
Sailor Mars started to protest, but she bent over in a spasm. Sailor Jupiter caught her; she seemed to have lost her power to levitate for the moment. Mars grimaced, but she still got out her words. "If I go back and stay, Chibi Moon will find out what we are going to do. And we need all the power we can muster to do this thing. Mercury, am I right? The more power, the better chance we have to destroy the bomb before it goes off?"
"Yes," said Sailor Mercury. "But you should still return. You are getting worse. Your powers could fail during the attack."
Mars was not finished. "You don't want me to have my father's blood on my hands, Mina-chan. And it is the same for the others, is it not?"
Venus slowly nodded. Then she said, quietly, "Chibi Moon already knows. I felt her in my mind before she left. I think she also knows what we do not want to do. Do all of you agree with me?"
Saturn said, "The First Moon and the Second Moon must survive."
"This could all be a plan for the coming enemy to destroy them," said Neptune. "The enemy did not have to face the First and Second Moons in cycles before, did they, Pluto?"
"None that I have lived through," said Pluto, "Or heard of."
"I have spent years trying to divine the coming enemy," said Mars. "Can you tell us anything about them?"
"Nothing that would help," said Pluto. "The enemy has been different in each cycle, when there was an enemy to fight. Sometimes the cycle turns on what seems to be a natural disaster. Sometimes it is a great war among the world's nations. The only common things about the cycles are the Time Gate and the Moon Princess and the Earth Prince beginning the new dynasty. Even the world-freezing has not happened in all cycles."
Jupiter said, "That is more than you have told us all your life, Sailor Pluto."
Sailor Venus broke the silence that followed by saying, "Very well. Mars, you will go back. We can take turns doing rescue work except for Mercury--I am sorry, but we will need you here to target the attack if we have to launch it."
Mars coughed and spit out a little bloody froth, betraying her now-punctured lung. "There is one more thing I should do here. If the bomb detonates, probably none of you here will survive and everyone in the White House will be killed. I want you to write out holograph wills. I will take them with me."
Old Hino-san said, "I thought Heaven would smell better."
That provoked choked laughter in the Ambassador, but no one else in the room. Hino had made the joke to stop the Minister from going on again about his heroism. Saburo Hino was embarrassed, and he was glad of the dark, so people could not see his face.
The fact was: he had seen the grenade, fallen on it, and thought about it only much later. If he had to do it over, he would have kicked the thing away--perhaps. It had all been reflex. The thing was a dud, anyway, like the other one he hadn't seen until later. The gods were in the mood to play a joke.
It was also reflex that he had filled his pants, and the ablutions admistered by the Tsukino boy much later had been inadequate. Hino knew he had to be the source of most of the stink in the room.
The stench had had one good result, though. While Tsukino Shingo had been cleaning him, the smell had driven the guard from the room, so Tsukino had been able to whisper a little news. The women and children had been released. There was also something about senshi, soldiers, but the guard had returned before Tsukino could say more.
<So, the Americans have tried to free us and have been driven off,> mused Hino. <Praiseworthy that they made the effort, but embarrassing that it failed.> The brutes holding them were going to come out heros, even to some Japanese, the ones who saw the United States as the eternal antagonist. Not a large segment of the Japanese population held those opinions, but Hino knew that some of them, too many, held some of the real power in Japan.
<The Americans are going to lose some of their fairweather friends in Japan,> thought Hino. The already large faction favoring priority for better relations and more joint ventures with China would grow; the much smaller pro-Russian lobby would also pick up some influence. <Still, nothing the Americans will really notice for a long time . . . China may be more stylish now, but America is the vital market. The only comparable one is the European Union, but they will never be as open to our trade as America is. The Kairetsu hold the balance of power, and the kairetsu exist to make money, so Japan will play the same game with the Americans as long as they are willing to play, no matter what some of their leaders really would like to do to the Americans . . . >
<But Deja-chan is really an American,> thought old Hino, and it disturbed him mightily.
The full fury of Hurricane Bartlett fell along the Atlantic Coast of Virginia and Maryland; Washington, D.C. faced only a much-diminished storm. Still, the storm lingered long, with winds of at least forty knots between 10 pm and 6 am, and of mostly over fifty knots in most areas around the District between midnight and three. Gusts of up to one hundred knots were recorded.
For some people who had taken to the roads, help came. For a very few, it came on angels' wings. For most, help did not come. Around the hour of three in the District and around it, many lives ended in cold wet darkness.
At the hour of three in Washington DC, midnight turned in California, and in the room where Naru wove her spells trying to bring Usagi back, the antique clock struck out the hour in the style of the Westminster chimes. The final tolling of twelve long notes prompted Naru to stop, put her face in her hands and sob, because the chimes seemed to be not just ringing out an old day, but ringing out Usagi's life. Her art would not bring back any of them, not Usagi, not Gurio . . .
Naru uncovered her face and turned to the door. Chibi-usa was standing there.
"Chi-Sarah, it's quiet," said Naru, grabbing a very mundane tissue to dab her cheeks. "All the children must be asleep now. Maybe you should be, too. Whatever tomorrow brings, it will be a busy day. We'll need you."
Chibi-usa came closer. She took her mother's hand, and then she said, "What do you really think, Auntie Naru?"
Naru felt the unmistakeable touch of Chibi-usa in her mind, much less subtle than Usagi's. Nevertheless, she sounded out her answer. "Your mother's soul is elsewhere, and she is slowly losing her connection with this life. And you must not link with her; your soul would follow hers."
"If you can't do anything," said Chibi-usa, "Maybe I should use the ginzuishou."
"That is too dangerous," said Naru. "And even if it were not, I don't think you can now. The ginzuishou's aura shows it is active now, being used, somehow. It is so closely tied to your mother, I think if you try to take control, that will trap your soul, too."
Chibi-usa transformed to Chibi Moon and floated up so she could kiss her mother's unfeeling face. Then she asked, "Is there any hope? Any reason to hope?"
"The Grey Lady is helping somehow," said Naru. "I can tell it she is using her magic on your mother, wherever she really is. And I'm sure we will get other help."
"If Auntie Argent can't break the spell," said Chibi-usa, "The little man is the only one I know of who might."
"Our Founder cannot be everywhere at once," said a new voice from the door, "Or if he can, he has probably forgotten that spell, too."
"Theophilus!" said Naru.
"Madame Umino, Little Moon," said the bizarrely dressed newcomer, "I am here to offer my own small Art. Condolances on your loss, Madame. There may yet be time for me to--"
"No, Theophilus," said Naru. "Even if there were time."
"Very well," said the man, opening a smallish case. "I shall limit myself to my own poor Art."
Chibi Moon came down and detransformed. "You don't need to feed, do you?"
"If you are offering yourself, Little Moon," the man said, "I must decline. My intuition tells me your full strength may be needed. However, if you can arrange for a mundane friend to volunteer," he continued, assembling his clarinet, "Or more than one, it would be helpful. I may be your guest for some time." He completed the instrument by attaching the bell, which had a small silver skull set into the ebony, and made to play a few notes. No sound emerged, but he seemed satisfied.
Naru heard crying, probably Ikuko-chan again. Chibi-usa began to leave the room, but she turned back for a moment and said, "Where have you been that they dress like that?"
"Another place I cannot tell you of, Little Moon, unless you take the vows of the Company."
Except when the nightmares came, Sarah had the gift of her mother: the ability to fall asleep quickly whenever she wished. So, when she had Chibi Ikuko back down, she went to her room, the room she shared with Kimi and Ishi--the room between her mother's room, and Auntie Minako's room. Ishi was in her mother's bed, with Isi and Aki now. Kimi was alone in their room--and still awake.
"Where's Lily?" asked Sarah, sitting on Kimi's bed.
"She went with Meti-chan," said, "To keep her company."
"That is Lily," muttered Sarah. Then she said "Can't sleep? Are you afraid of a bad dream?"
"No," said Kimi. "I'm wondering why Mama Venus won't let me come back. I can help so much. Neri-chan is asking, too."
<And probably listening to us, if she's awake.> Sarah reached out and put her hand on Kimi's head. "Venus-sama knows best, Second Moon."
Nagy saw someone new step out of the darkness. It was a little girl in a pretty frock, dark-skinned, with big dark eyes, clutching a cloth doll with yellow yarn making its hair--and the doll's hair looked like--
The little girl walked up to the woman in grey and the woman in the wheelchair, the Death Angel in the wheelchair. The Death Angel asked her, "Who are you?"
"Why are you scared of me?"
"You have skulls all over you. You look scary."
"May I see your doll?"
The little girl held out the doll.
"It is a Sailor Moon doll," said the Death Angel.
"I thought she got lefted behind," said the little girl, "But now I have her. I'm in my bestest dress. Am I in Heaven now?"
The lady in gray said, "What do you remember before you came here?"
"Gramma took me an' Tanya to the car and we drove real fast until we were in a buncha cars. Gramma tried to drive around them and we got stucked in the mud. Then the wind blew really hard. A truck tipped over on us. The top of the car was all mushed in. It was dark. It was real cold, and water came in and it was really cold. Tanya wouldn't wake up and Gramma wouldn't talk."
The Death Angel said, "Did you wish that Sailor Moon would really come to help?"
"Uh-huh . . . She's like an angel, she has wings." And the doll did have droopy cloth wings.
The lady in gray said, "Don't. If you use--"
"I was given this power to help," said the Death Angel. She turned back to the little girl and said, "I did not know you needed my help, Keesha-chan. But you will have it now.I am the real Sailor Moon."
"You don't look the same."
"I have changed. I am older than when your doll was made, Keesha-chan. I have girls of my own now. Come closer," said the Death Angel, as a brilliant jewel emerged from her, constantly changing, floating between her hands. "This is the ginzuishou, the Silver Crystal. I will use it to help you." And it seemed to glow brighter than the sun . . .
Something made Sailor Jupiter turn back and take another look at the overturned truck she had just flown over. And taking that second look, she saw something was under it. She blasted open the cargo compartment and threw the cargo out piece by piece until she had cleared the area over the car, then she ripped through the remaining wall and then the roof of the car below to expose the passenger compartment. It was almost filled with mud and water. The driver had died instantly, and one of the girls in the back was ice cold, long gone. But the other one was breathing. Jupiter blasted some of the remaining cargo to start a fire, and warmed and dried the girl before flying her through the driving rain to a shelter. <If only Chibi Moon was with us, I could save so many more with her to teleport.> But Sailor Jupiter did save this one.
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