|Red White Blue|
There were trees down in Lafayette park but, surprisingly, none on the White House grounds, though there were many fallen branches, some the size of small or not-so-small trees. A few of the third-floor windows were broken, but most had survived intact behind their shutters. The traditional windows divided up into small panes had held up well. There were many broken windows showing in the more modern buildings visible from the White House.
The wind was still strong, gusts dangerous. Perhaps the Americans were exagerating their predictions for the afternoon, but the weather was much too bad for flying now.
It was also too bad for Baiburs' lackeys, so when she found Sergeiev braving the weather with Vietingoff, she felt free to speak. "Sergeiev, have you talked with everyone?"
"All of our men," said the Siberian. "You have our support. What do you think we should do?"
"Be ready to act quickly. Baiburs wants us and the Americans to believe we will agree to the evacuation. I don't know if that is his real plan. Maybe he thinks he has a way to get himself away."
"That would surprise no one," said Veitingoff.
"Be careful around Fahd and his men, too," said Horthy. "My guess is that Baiburs has at least one plant among them."
"If we move against Baiburs, will Fahd support us?" asked Veitingoff.
"I don't know," said Horthy. "Fahd is a better man than Baiburs, but I think he is a patriot." She shrugged. "I have a special compulsion to stay here now, but if any man should find a way to leave, I will not complain."
"We signed with you and the Colonel," said Sergeiev. "We will all finish this thing together."
"This just in . . . There was a gun battle a few moments ago between police and FBI agents and some alleged bank robbers. They were apparently discovered trying to break into bank offices located only a few blocks from FBI headquarters and shooting broke out . . . "
The mayor shook his head. "Business as usual for crooks, I guess," muttered Winston Clayborne, and then he said to an assistant, "Phil, call the Chief when you get a chance. Find out if he lost anyone?"
The Acting Director of the FBI said, "I think the news release will hold up. Fortunately our friends set themselves up in a building that actually has a branch bank on the first floor."
"You mean there actually was more than one?" asked Buonnarti.
"Three men and one woman," said Anne Kerkorian. "We took the woman alive. They killed one of my agents and wounded two others, a policeman from the District force and a National Guard trooper."
"Another surprise," said Brinkman, the military intelligence man. "Still, accurate information. Our newest friend seems to be genuine."
"Don't be so sure," said Buonnarti.
"Why?" asked Brinkman.
"As Sun Tzu said, some spies are doomed. They may have sacrificed some of their people to make us trust their so-called defector. Dzerzhinsky was a master at this sort of thing."
The President was master of many facts, but she recognized neither the name of the Chinese strategist nor of Lenin's spymaster and chief secret policeman. "Why would they want us to believe they have a traitor, Mr. Buonnarti?"
Buonnarti said, "I don't know. Maybe to draw out this thing, get a little more propaganda out of it. Maybe to tempt us into making an attack so they can set off their bomb with cleaner hands. And maybe they want to get this 'defector' out so she can do more damage later. We're not really sure she is who we've been told. Anyway, we don't have much at all on her if she is really Maria Horthy. She might really belong to them."
"She is who we think," said the President.
"According to our friends?" said Buonnarti, a slight sneer in his voice, perhaps.
<Of course, with the FBI and the NSA on the angels, the CIA looks third-best now. I don't need this . . .> "Mr. Buonnarti may have a point. We are not going to accept everything she tells us uncritically. However, we can't afford to ignore her."
Maria Horthy checked her pager. She read the critical message, and then erased it. <One arrow gone from Baiburs' quiver, at least . . .>
Baiburs said, "One of our operative teams was uncovered and overwhelmed by the Americans. This is regrettable. However, they are not our only outside resource."
"Is the latest American proposal acceptable?" asked Horthy drily.
"If you mean, will the evacuation take place, yes it will, Major," said Baiburs. "And soon, perhaps within the hour. Despite mishaps, the mission is almost accomplished." Baiburs lit a cigarette. "How is your Leftenent Colonel?"
"Still unconscious, but he is beginning to mutter things. Maybe he's coming out of it."
"A hopeful sign. Is he saying anything of importance?"
"If he is, no one understands it."
The things emerged from the darkness driving the man Nagy still thought of as "Sultan." He wasn't in his fancy uniform now; he was dressed in slacks and sport coat, looking very much like a typical academic--perhaps his insight about his lecturing had been right. How you appeared in this place seemed to depend on your mood, maybe . . . except that he still wore the same hussar's uniform, like in the picture book from so long ago.
The gray lady had changed a number of times, but now she was as she was when she first appeared, something that seemed more and more familiar to him somehow . . . but he could not explain it. The woman turned to the Death Angel and said, "Can you read him?"
"Yes. Fazi al Kaukji! How do you disarm your bomb?"
"I will not tell you!" Sultan answered defiantly, once more the "General."
"You already have. Is there something more?" The Death Angel took on an intense look of concentration.
Suddenly Nagy could hear Sultan's thoughts, see into his mind . . . and he realized--
"I'm inside your mind!"
"Yes," said the woman in gray. "You are in each other's minds. You have been since the link was made. You seem to talk and listen because that is the way your minds can accept it best."
"Then this place is not real?"
"Oh, it is real. Very real," said the woman in gray. Then she turned to the Death Angel, and did more of her magic. "Moon Princess, the link you made may have a final price. Only one of you may freely return. My art may let the other return, but I am doubtful. You are the sovereign of your worldline. You must choose who will go back."
The Death Angel turned to Nagy. "You must stop Baiburs before it is too late. I have seen your heart. You are an honorable enemy. You have showed kindness at risk to yourself. If I do not return, the Grey Lady will remember these things.."
And then he was gone from the strange place . . .
Naru heard the screams and ran toward them. Everyone in the house seemed to be gathered outside Usagi's room except . . .
Except inside Carmen and Alison Gonsoles were doing CPR. Usagi was no longer the floating Death Angel; she was just a naked woman laid out on her bed, limp and lifeless as a rag doll.
Naru fought through the tears to think. She worked her Art and saw . . .
"Chibi-moon! Luna!" she cried out, "I need you. The rest of you, out, there is nothing you can do now. See to the babies, your screaming has woken them up and scared them."
"Istvan? Do you hear me now?"
Istvan Nagy opened his eyes to find Maria staring at him.
"You've been babbling on for an hour. Can you actually talk some sense now?"
He looked down at himself. He was in a bed . . . this had to be the Third Floor, and this was a room for one of the live-in servants, or the less-important guests. And he was not in a hussar's uniform . . . he was in the same underwear he had been wearing since Friday Morning, and it smelled like it.
"What has happened?"
"You have missed much. We had a fight, but drove off whoever or whatever was attacking. Costumed women, mostly, straight out of comic books. Sultan is dead--"
"I know that," said Nagy. "Maria, where is Baiburs? You haven't shot him, have you?"
"No. I came damned close, but . . . His men have Zita."
"Damn . . . Does Baiburs control the bomb?"
"Yes," said Horthy. "How do you know about--"
"Did he say anything about resetting the timers?"
Usagi stood up. Her wheelchair faded away.
"I warned you not to use the Ginzuishou here," said the Grey Lady.
"The wheelchair . . . it was here because it was part of my life?"
The Grey Lady did not answer the question.
"So . . . this is the world of death."
"An edge of it," said the Grey Lady. "The world of death is never far from any other world."
Usagi became the Death Angel, but with the short skirt she had worn before she was crippled. "I have my legs back. Mamoru loved my legs so much . . . so did Jimmy. He must be here too . . ."
The Grey Lady did not respond; she was working her Art again.
"I can still hear Nagy-san's thoughts, even see through his eyes a little," said Sailor Moon.
After she finished her latest spell, the Grey Lady said, "You are still linked with him. Your task is not finished."
Auntie Setsuna's friend mistook Kimi for Ishi again, but Kimi did not correct her. She explained, "Sarah is using her magic to keep mama from dying."
"Is it working?"
"I don't think so. Give me Ishi-chan. Maybe I can help her."
Kimi Chiba walked away from the room where she could do nothing to help, trying to comfort Ikuko-chan. <I wonder if she knows,> thought Kimi.
Sarah would try to use the ginzuishou before long, of course, and that could kill her, too.
Kimi walked past her room, right next to okasan's, and past the nursery, full of fussing babies now, down to the opposite end of the walkway, quietly crying herself the whole way. Between two of the windows there was a mirror, always an attraction for Ikuko-chan, and Kimi pointed at their images, and held up Ikuko-chan in front of the mirror . . .
Nagy's arguments with Baiburs did not impress the man, but he made a more than reasonable attempt before pulling out his pistol, aiming it at Baiburs' head, and squeezing the trigger.
Unfortunately, it did not fire, and he heard a mental apology from the woman who was still in his brain, after all. That was all he heard before Baiburs shot him.
And then he was back in the place without walls. The woman in gray was there, and the Death Angel, now looking sensual with long legs exposed by very short skirts--
And Maria was beside him, dressed in that eve-of-battle gown . . .
In the mirror, Kimi saw it, Baiburs, the meanest man, shooting a man and a woman, and another man shooting yet another man who seemed about to shoot Baiburs. It was all over before she could do anything--except, instinctively, transform and shift Ikuko-chan to one hand so that she could use the other hand to . . . what?
"What happened?" demanded Fahd, stepping over Sergeiev, whom he had just shot.
"Nagy went mad and tried to kill me," said Baiburs. "He babbled on that he knew that our Commander had given me false codes."
"Their other men, they will attack us as soon as they know of this!"
Baiburs leveled his gun at Fahd. "Go out and tell the rest of them I will detonate the device if they do not lay down their arms."
"I just saved your life," said Fahd. "You do not need to point your gun at me!" He turned and left.
Sergeiev appeared to make his last report, and then another came . . . he was hard to recognize at first, because his hair had turned white and he was dressed very differently. But it was the man the Death Angel had so mourned.
"Endymion. Mamoru. I can be with you again now," said the Death Angel.
"No, not now," said the man with majesty in his voice. "Not yet. I have come to help."
"Your task is not finished. There is only one left who can stop the bomb."
In the mirror, Kimi Moon saw Baiburs pull an antenna out of a laptop, and begin to type.
<<Use the rose!>>
And before she could think of whose voices were sounding in her mind, before she knew, she had done it.
Then she stepped through the mirror. She heard Deja scream behind her just before, and now she heard shooting. But she listened to the voices in her mind first.
<<A429b$@ . . .>>
The time had come after all. There was firing in the White House, nothing to do with the Sailors or the American soldiers.
They teleported up to the roof and gathered in three rings: the Asatara, the four Outers, and the three Inners still in action. Upon Venus' command, they launched their bolts into the heavens. Then Mercury turned her visor on the White House and the particular coordinates where the combined attack would return to earth.
And then Jupiter shouted, "Stop it! Kimi Moon is inside!"
General Thysson commented, "The little one was right about that attack of theirs."
"Except that they missed, General," said Buonnarti, who was not bothering to take cover under the conference table.
Veitingoff burst into the Monroe office, expecting to find Baiburs dead or alive. He brought up his weapon, the heavy sniper rifle he could aim as easily as a pistol, but he hesitated to fire. The little apparition before him, black-winged with deaths-heads festooning her hair, ears, and throat, was holding an infant in one arm while typing into a laptop with the other. Baiburs leaned back in his chair seeing nothing, a blue rose growing out of one eye.
Meanwhile the senshi were fighting in the basement--a surprisingly brief fight since only two of Baiburs' men were still alive when they arrived. While Fahd had died a patriot, most of his men had chosen the better part of valor. The mercenaries, being experienced, knew when it was time to give up.
Delta Force came about a minute late for the final fight. Baiburs had picked brave men for the final defense of the bomb, but not very smart ones. They did not figure out how to rearm the bomb before Moon Angel Lambda phased through the steel door of the most secure place in the White House. Their bullets passed through her body. The blade of ZoŽ's sword was more substantial, and the Delta Force commander would say later that the bomb room looked like an abattoir.
"The task is done," said the Grey Lady. "You must return now."
"Can't I stay a little longer?" asked Sailor Moon.
"Chibi-usa is using the ginzuishou," said Endymion. "It is dangerous to remain, for her and for you."
She kissed her immortal love, and then turned to the soldier and his lady. "You were both as kind as you could be to my people. What can I do when I return?"
"Save Zita," said Nagy, impressing within her all he could of his child.
Sailor Moon did not have time for another kiss before she was drawn away from the world of death.
Usagi's first sight of her world through her own eyes was someone not of it--Theophilus the musical vampire was playing his mute clarinet. "I can hear your music more clearly now."
"Not as clearly as the Grey Lady, Madame, I would wager. But you are an even closer friend of death than you were."
"Why are you here?"
"I came to help. And why am I here at this moment? It is night. The living need their sleep, so I volunteered to watch you. Should I get the others?"
"Do you know if Kimi told the others about Nagy and Horthy's child?"
"Ah, the child of your enemies," said Theophilus, shaking his head. "Your sense of mercy never fails to astonish. Yes, your daughter did tell the rest of your court. They did find the child in time. Fortunately for her, perhaps, her captors were swine. Instead of simply disposing of the child and disappearing when they heard that their great scheme had failed, they decided to have some sport with her first. Their sport attracted the attention of the younger Venus and the oldest of Jupiter's children. I understand they made quite a mess before their elders arrived." Theophilus shook his head. "Such a pity I wasn't along. All that lovely blood wasted. A meal I would have truly relished . . . in Paris, too. I haven't been to a Paris in ages. Perhaps I will be here long enough to see yours."
Theophilus played a few notes of unearthly music, perhaps to work a small spell, perhaps simply for pleasure, or perhaps to get a bad taste from his mind. "Should I get someone else?"
"I don't know . . . I can't quite see the clock. But I can see you well enough . . . I guess I see better in the dark now, even when I'm not transformed."
"One of the benefits of being more intimate with death, perhaps," said Theophilus. He pulled a watch from somewhere within his very odd, very flamboyant outfit. "I stopped your clock; the chimes are too loud. Mmmm, I believe it is a bit past four. Not much night left for me now. You would have to get into trouble at the height of the local summer, wouldn't you?"
"I'll schedule my next crisis for December 21st," said Usagi. "If everyone else is asleep . . . play for me awhile?"
"Of course, Madame. Do you have a request?"
"The song from the Moon Kingdom, the only one I remember. Do you remember it?"
"I never forget a melody, Madame."
Previous: The Storm
Next: Funeral Games
Story Index Main Index