About last night....

From the Story Arc: Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Previous Story in the Arc: Look Down To Camelot by Victoria Victrix (Monday, May 30, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Traces by Victoria Victrix (Wednesday, June 08, 2005)

(posted Monday, June 06, 2005)

The top of the Arena in Galaxy City was one of the few places where Vickie could get to without being able to fly. It was high---the view was wonderful---and it was a good place to talk.

But now, facing Red Djinni, she was reluctant to do so. Even though that was why she had asked him to come here in the first place.

He stood there with his arm crossed, looking at her with concern. "What?"

"I hate to bring anything unhappy here," she said reluctantly.

He shrugged. "It's a quiet space. Consider it a sanctuary. You can say anything here."


She nodded. "Well.....what do you want me to tell you? I'm not sure where to start."

He sighed. "At the beginning I guess."

She shifted her weight from foot to foot uneasily. "I guess....OK. How I know Thea, Althea Nagy. Through Belladonna Aura. Bella is the one who got her from the RUssian consul when they dumped her here---"

Red held up a hand. "Wait. Take a seat."

She did.

"Alright then," he said, doing the same.

Vickie cast her mind back to that day. "Well, she was so forlorn looking and so scared looking and you know Bell....Bell got her the boarding house and helped her settle in, and then just kind of adopted her. Like a robot---now TWO robots---in her closet isn't bad enough, right?"

Red nodded. "Sounds like Bella, alright. Two? I've heard tell of Waitron."

She smiled a little, remembering the day that the second one had showed up at the door, looking forlornly for a home and an a/c outlet. "Felix. Experimental medicbot assigned to the CCCP. Let me keep going linearly here. So Thea comes over and she looks in my freezer and has a very quiet shy litter of kitten. 'You are not eating right!' So okay, I'm a slave to the microwave, what can I say." She smiled weakly. "It's maybe a good thing you can't eat, cause I can't cook. If you'd accepted a dinner invitation I was gonna have Bella stop by the caterer. I burn Jello. So anyway, Thea spends a couple hours filling my freezer with things I can't pronounce. Everytime there's a space in there she whips stuff up for me and Bell. So that's how I know her. But she doesn't know I'm a mage, ok?"

Red nodded.

"All she knows about me is a write romances and I'm---I was---housebound." For a moment, she felt absurdly proud of that "was." Then she got back on track. "So I get curious about people I let in the door. Paranoid I guess. I always research them."

The way that Red raised his eyebrow---oh no. Oh hell. "Like me," he said quietly.

She ducked her head apologetically. "You too, Red. I'm---sorry."

He waved it off.

She grimace. "Burned once......in more ways than one."

He closed his eyes in what looked like a moment of pain.

"Red---" she said softly, her own heart spasming.

"...go... go on." The tone of his quiet voice told her all she needed to know.

She sighed. "I don't want to hurt you. I don't EVER want to hurt you."

He opened his eyes again. "You don't have to tip-toe around me. I'm fine." She heard the effort in his voice to sound brave. "We heroes are made of sterner stuff," he said, and chuckled.

She couldn't let this stand. "But....look, I'm not a kid. I know that even when people love each other they hurt each other, just by accident sometimes."

He nodded. "If anything, love gives people a weapon to hurt each other. Double-edged sword. You roll with it."

She persisted. "Just---look, you have my solemn vow, on my honor and soul as a Knight-Mage, that I will NEVER hurt you deliberately."

That took him by surprise. "You don't have to do that. I trust you."

Too late; the words had been spoken, and she had felt the Power take note. "It's already done." She took a deep breath and returned to the subject. "OK, so I research Thea. Uber biography. Buffy the Vampire Slayerski. Problem is....maybe I can't do magic, but I can still READ it, and that's not what I'm reading on the girl filling my freezer. What I'm reading is someone who WAS sealed to a powerful family tradition of magic at birth, like the bio says. But who hasn't actually had or used it until a couple weeks before I met her."

Red scratched his head. "I think Bella mentioned something like that..."

Vickie nodded; the information had, after all, come from her. "She had...three spells? All learned within that past two weeks. There's kind of magical calluses you get by using spells. She didn't hve 'em. I think that's why she's---or she was---terrified of Red Saviour. She's afraid of what will happen when Red Saviour figures that out."

Red looked acutely puzzled as well as worried. "Why go along with it in the first place? Why not just TELL Saviour when she got here?"

Vickie grimaced. This was where family background came in. FBI--- "Why would the Russian consul come with her all the way from Moscow? She's got family back there." She made her voice go sinister. "'Be a shame if somethin' wasta....happen to 'em.' OK, Bella asked me to look into this, I did and told her that much. And this is where things start to get complicated. So then she introduces me to Johnny Murdock, who she says Flame vouches for, and let me tell you, no matter what you may believe.....Flame is the real deal. Bella tells me Johnny is kind of the head of the conspiracy to protect Thea. I tell Johnny what I know---cause Bell doesn't spill anything to anyone and asked me if I would tell him myself. So I did, and I guess---" she chuckled ruefully "---he figured I had other connections. Cause he asked me to dig further, and I did. A boatload."

Red's eyes narrowed. "That bad?"

She pursed her lips. "Well---let's say interesting. There WAS a vampire-hunting family in Transylvania by the name of Nagy. They WERE murdered a while ago--- The Nagys---Grandfather, father, mother and two sons, one 23 and one 17---were murdered. BUt it wasn't vampires that did it. It was Council. Vampires don't leave laser burns on the bodies---"

She was about to say more, when a stranger intruded, simply standing near. Lurking....

It had been a long day. She had steeled herself to trot around with a Viking group, doing holds and heals---Johnny had recommended their leader and said it would be a fast way for her to get more experience and security levels. He'd been right, and they had been sweet in their odd way, calling her "little shaman," and keeping between her and the Hellions and Outcasts and Skulls they were all hunting. But then there had been a friend of Red's he wanted to introduce her to---and another that had just come up to them---now this fellow, and she felt her nerves going raw. "I think I've about reached my daily limit for strangers," she said, getting up and edging away.

Red said something to the man, and he left.

"Well, unless they're friends of yours," she added, telling herself that it was a small price to bear--- "The Nagys. They were murdered by Council. Laser burns, bullets, flame-thrower somehow left behind."

Red raised an eyebrow again. "Pretty sloppy."

It actually was relaxing in a peculiar way to talk about things that didn't include---her. "I don't think they cared. See, in that part of the world everyone knows that the vampires and the Council are in bed together and have been for decades. What IS news, is that someone---some high-ranking official---pulled all the local police for a wildlife smuggling raid that same night The raid was real, the ring was real---but why that night? And why ALL of the police? Now, this is where my sources clam up and I know not a damn thing about politics in that part of the world. But there's this. Johnny doesn't know this yet, haven't seen him to tell him; just got a snail-mail today. Told Bell though. There was a daughter. Thea's age."

Red's eyes went as big as plates.

Well, no surprise. "Sent to Moscow at six weeks old to be adopted into an unknown family."

"Aw hell..." he groaned.

She nodded. "This is something that Hunters often do to preserve the bloodline."

He made the correct deduction. "So the letters she's been writing home have been to her adopted folks."

She nodded. "Looks like it. That fills in all the questions about why the magic and bloodline and why she never had it before now, and why she's been writing to 'Mama and Papa' when both are supposed to be dead. Believe me I had a hard time convincing my sources to part with that bit of data." She spread her hands wide. "That's what I know." She closed her eyes.

Silence. "Amber?" Red ventured at last. "I'm sorry."

She opened them again, and smiled weakly. "There are times---lots of them---when I regret letting you coax me our of the house. Then I look at you and---it's worth it."

It seemed to be the right thing to say. He got up, moved behind her, sat and wrapped his arms about her slowly, gauging her reaction. She stiffened for a half second, then relaxed.

"Tell me about your day. The barbarians."

She slowly, carefully, leaned back against him. It was---it was good. She tried not to think about it, just let herself feel. "Well....One-Eye Odin or whatever his name is---I needed a damage dealer, and Johnny was busy, but he said this guy was a teddy bear---And he really is. ABout as articulate as a brick, but a teddy bear."

He sounded apologetic. "I'm sorry I wasn't around..."

She sighed. "You can't always be around, Red. And it's not like we're even remotely the same level where we could really patrol together. Like....partners..."

There it was...oh gods. How she wanted that. To be on an equal footing with him so it wasn't---him always helping her.

"Of course we can," he said quickly. "I told you I'd be there for you, and I meant it. For anything."

She shook her head. "You can help me---but there's no way I can help you."

He chockled. "Not that again. You underestimate yourself."

She sighed, and felt the sting of frustrated tears. "Look, I know what I used to be able to do. And I know what someone at your level needs as a working partner. I can't do that."

Silence for a moment. Then, "Give it time." he said.

He might have said more, but his comm crackled to life. It was a male voice, with a RUssian accent. "I am wondering if anyone is knowing where I can get ahold of etchings."

"Eh?" she said, intrigued, as he reached to turn it off. He stopped.

She knew the second voice. Kid Crisis. "Etchings of anything in particular?"

"I am having made date with wonderful belochka. We are to go see movie and have dinner, and come back to my apartament for to see etchings. I am not even knowing what etchings are."

Vic covered her mouth with her hand to smother a giggle, and she felt Red twitch.

Kid Crisis was probably doing more than twitcing. "I think that, in this context, the etchings are actually somewhat irrelevant. Who decided on looking at etchings, as an activity?"

The poor Russki sounded so proud of himself "I was hearing Amerikanski suggest this on Television. She is very educated woman. I thought it would be showing of me having class. To be honest comrade, I am not knowing what an etching is. It is like engraving, da?"

Kid was clearly having trouble keeping from laughing. "I hate to say it, but in general, 'come up and look at my etchings' has more to do with sex than with art. But yeah, that's what they basically are."

Dawning horror in the Russian's voice. "Is Amerikanski euphamism, da?"

"Exactly."

A new voice chimed in. "Yeah, ya might not wanna start it off like that."

Kid was doing a good job of keeping his tone serious. "Well, you should bear in mind that this isn't advice coming from a real casanova."

The Russian groaned. "This is not good. She is not knowing this is euphimism either. I think we are both thinking this is art of some sort."

Poor Kid was losing it--"Well, in that case, you're both screwed. Metaphorically."

The Russian now sounded desperate. "Maybe I will talking her to go on patrol with me instead."

The third voice agreed. "Could do that if ya want."

Kid was doing his best. "See, this is where euphemism gets us in trouble..."

The poor Russian! And suddenly, Vicki knew, KNEW, who it was, and who the young lady was. October Star---and Thea. "Is very embarressing."

Kid was trying. "Hell, do you really want etchings?"

She couldn't resist. After all---this was the young man who had made Thea so happy she had come to stock the freezers humming this morning. And poor Thea needed something good in her life for a change. She took the comm out of Red's hand. "Comrade Star?"

"Da?"

"Speaking as a writer of romances, if this is the little devushka I am thinking of I have a good idea. Dig out your books of photographs and scrapbooks. to show her. Tell her about yourself and your family. She is very very homeskick."

Kid sounded relieved. "That's probably better advice than mine."

So did poor October Star. "Da! Is ochen horosho idea"

She felt a smile in her own voice. "This will make her happy, and if anyone asks her what you did, she will tell them in all innocence that you were looking over these things. I am always happy to help out a comrade in matters of the emotions."

Star sounded overjoyed now. "That is most excellent. She is most shy, and I am just wanting to show her good time in America."

And Kid sounded envious. "Jeez... wish I'd had your advice with my last two girlfriends."

She was laughing now that it was past the point that Star would be hurt by it. "There is only one little devushka in CCCP I can think of that is shy. I know her a bit, thanks to my neighbor Bella."

Poor Star. "Amerikanski have far too many euphimism for private matters and not enough culture for sharing at times. All is joke in america."

She gave him the best advice he could have regarding Thea. "Let her cook you something. You will both be happy. She will be happy watching you eat and you will be happy being full."

Red took the comm from her and put in his own two cents worth. "It makes life that much more amusing, Star."

"It's a cultural failing, that's for sure," Kid said.

" ... don't think I'd call it a FAILING...." Red interjected.

Vic added her bit. " ....I would call it a national trait. We make fun of ourselves to forget our pains and sorrows. Whereas you Russians write novels about your pains and sorrows."

He pulled her closer, and she snuggled into his shoulder, wrapped in two warm arms and a wonderful sense of comfort. Relaxing. She could relax with him---she could actually touch him and let him touch her. The conversation turned away from Thea and into a joke session complicated by the fact that there were two languages involved.

Red sighed, but it was a sigh of content. "And all is well in the greatest city on Earth." Then he chcukled as he adjusted his communicator to listen in better.

"Yes, it is," she said softly.

"Who's Star talking about?"

She grinned. "Would you believe Thea?"

There was a moment of stunned silence. "Sure, why not." She heard the grin in his voice.

It was so good to talk about ordinary things. "Bell said when she talked to her over lunch today she was positively pink. Young love! Or young crush, anyway."

"Well," Kid Crisis was saying, "The pun doesn't really translate."

Red tightened his arms around her a little more. "Aye..."

Out of the depth of her own experience she added, "Thank god this one is a good guy."

"He sounds....like it."

She sighed, and let him know just how deep her paranoia ran---and that he was by no means not the only victim of it. "You think I haven't run checks on everyone in YC and CCCP? Sheesh. I should be a PI."

He chortled. A relief.

"You should do the nightclub circuit with that act," said Kid Crisis in response to an obtuse Russian joke.

"I'd pay to see it," Red put in.

"Spaciba," said Star, "will be here all week. Try the borscht."

She felt Red shaking a bit from laughing.

And she thought of something else. "Hey Star?" she said into the comm. "She collects orchids. The plant. And bromeliads. Cohlmia's Greenhouse---"

Red suddenly stopped laughing and went very still.

"See, this is the killer advice all men need," Kid was saying, but Red wasn't listening.

"Maybe Star should know," he said, in a voice gone quite serious.

She put her fist to her mouth, feeling cold. "Oh good gods. You're right.: You or me?"

He paused. "Maybe we should invite him "

She winced at the thought of another stranger, but stepped up to the plate. This was not about her. "I think we'd better"

He distangled himself from her, and she wondered if he felt the same regret she did.

Star was repeating her advice. "Orchids and Bromolads. Bromiads. Brom.. Orchids. Da? Is flower, nyet?"

She took the comm. "Ah, Star? We need to talk to you about somethiung pretty urgently."

He must have sensed the shift in tone. "Shto?"

She pressed it. "It is extremely important."

His voice went serious too. "Where you wish to meet?"

Her sanctuary---but it was easy to find. "Red Djinni and I are sitting on top of the arena in Galaxy."

"Will be right there!"

She stood up, and paced. It had been a perfect moment---so perfect---and now it was gone. "---damndamndamndamndamn---"

Red looked up at her, concern in his eyes. "What's wrong darlin'?"

She looked hard at him, then knelt down and looked in his eyes.

"We making a mistake?" he asked.

No, she thought, we're not. And if I don't do this now I may never get the nerve to do it again.

She put one hand on either side of his face and kissed him, fearlessly for once, where his mouth would have been---and then again on his cheekbone below his left eye where he could actually feel something.

Star appeared at that moment, and he pulled back from the embrace before she could guage his reaction. She stood up.

"Zdrasvitseh!" said the Russian hero.

Red nodded at the newcomer in his black, red and gold costume. "Star."

"Have a seat," she said, gesturing at the surface of the dome. "This is about Thea. You're about to join a conspiracy." As the Russian sat beside Red, she looked to Red Djinni. "You or me, Red?"

"Better from you, I think," Red replied, as Star raised an eyebrow.

She sighed, and launched into it. "OK tovarisch, you don't know me from Adam, but I've known Bella since i got here 2 years ago. And I've had a standing invitation to join CCCP or YC for about that long."

October Star looked puzzled for a moment. "Bella? Ah, Belladonna. Da."

She continued. "We will set aside all of the reasons why I haven't for right now, they aren't relevent. I AM in YC now. Red Saviour vouches for me."

Djinni put in his own two cents. "Listen to her carefully Star, if you know who I am, please know she has my trust too."

"Is that good enogh for you?" she asked.

Poor fellow looked horribly confused. "I know and Trust comrade Djinn," he said carefully, "I suppose, if you are Young Champion...that is good enough." And he added an expression of "apprehensive" to the "confused."

She sighed. "I guess begin at the beginning again. When Thea arrived her, she was in the custody of the Russian Consul from New York. Now, I don't think ANY of you other new arrivals have had that particular 'honor,' Am I correct?"

He shrugged. "I suppose not. Soviet Republic is... well...We are not tracked very well, or treated well either."

She nodded. "Anyway, Bella happened to be on newbie alert and was not going to leave a nice girl to make her way here alone. So she went and picked her up. OK, bear with me here. Thea, being as shy as she is, Bella just adopted on the spot."

And at that point, a little older hero in what appeared to be a brand new CCCP uniform landed next to them. She jumped. Red Djinni immediately led him off and began talking to him quietly while Vickie tried to continue her recitation with one increasingly nervous eye on the newcomer. "Bella found her the boarding house--- Red, don't leave, ok? Please?"

She couldn't help it; he was her lifeline and she was going to drown---

"I'm not, don't worry," he replied.

"I'm....reaching my tolerance limit here," she said, feeling the tension that had left her rewinding to far past the point it had been. "Forgive me Comrade Star," she said, turning back to him. "I have....emotional problems."

He looked sympathetic---and hadn't a clue. "Trust me, the Grandson of grreat hero...I understand," he said.

Suddenly she knew that she had to make it quite clear to him that he was dealing with---

---a paranoid freak with enough psychoses to keep an army of shrinks in Founders Falls.

"I don't think you do....quite," she said. She steeled herself, and pulled off her glove, showing him the thing that had once been a hand---

"I'm like that everywhere," she said quietly.

Like Red, he looked away, quickly. But like Red, he then looked back, then looked up directly into her eyes. There was pity there, but not so much that it was---insulting.

"Ah," he said quietly. "You are correct. I am without understanding. Please to continue."

And at that point, yet another costumed hero arrived---a young Chinese boy. Red gave a start of recognition and cursed.

"Oh" he said, "A meeting?" as Vickie put her glove back on quickly.

"Hello Shen," Red said with resignation.

"Ni hao." Now Vickie knew who this must be, and the boy connected with the pictures from her net investigations. Shen Fai-Long, who had come in at the same time as Thea, and who Thea called her "Little brother." "Is there a meeting?"

Red surely knew that too; he looked at her intently.

"Please forgive my tardness!" said Shen. "I must have misplaced the summons."

She groaned softly. "Does he know, " she whispered urgently.

Red Djinni rolled his eyes "I have NO clue. And how do I do that? ... this would be funny if the situation.... hell....gimme a minute...." He turned to the boy. "Shen, may I speak with you?"

He took She off to the side.

The tension inside her was ramping up to the point where it was as high as it had been before she met Red, but somehow, she managed to remain outwardly calm. "I am so sorry about this."

October Star shrugged. "Act like Communist. Assume everyone knows everything, but act like nobody knows anything."

With one eye on Shen and one on Star she continued. "So Bella adopted Thea, and because we are neighbors I have gotten to know her. The fact is that I have a hard time talking to people. It is---I have been housebound for a long time and Thea is sweet and restful."

Star smiled and it transformed his entire expression. "Da. She is like breath of fresh air."

She hated to spoil that expression. "But I knew from the beginning that there was something seriously wrong with---"

Red strode over, leaving Shen standing on the side. "Dammit... can't do this Amber, if Star's going to be in the loop, Shen should too. I can see how he cares for Thea. You up for it?"

No. "I have to be," she said, grimly.

As if that had not been enough---

---Kid Crisis appeared. She had met him the night that she'd spoken to Johnny Murdock about Thea on this very spot. He'd showed when Johnny was almost through, and since they knew each other, she had decided to test her tolerance limits by talking to what was, after all, a very non-threatening hero. She hoped she had given him some good advice.

But right now she could have encased him in stone on the spot.

"Oh for god's sake!" she said in despair.

The poor fellow looked around at them all, "Am I interrupting anything?"

"Actually Kid," Red said reluctantly, "you kind of are. Don't mean to be rude....I'm very sorry."

Bless the fellow. He smiled tiredly. "Fair enough. See you both around."

"It is party!" October Star sighed. "Should go to paragon dance clup. Is always empty."

Just as Shen took a seat, yet another stranger appeared, and the tension inside Vickie snapped. She leapt to her feet, fists clenched at her side---and she couldn't help herself. The words just burst out of her in a scream. "WHY DON'T I JUST BROADCAST A FRIGGNG INVITATION?!"

Poor Shen jumped. So did Star.

She stood there, practically vibrating between the need to flee back to the safety of her apartment and the need to be here---

Red Djinni stood up, and carefully put his hands on her shoulders. His voice was soothing, and she felt herself responding to it. "Have a seat Amber, relax.... "

It worked. She fell over the edge on the side of staying. "Sorry. Nerves got the better of me," she said tightly, as she sat down. Red sat next to her, without prompting and held her hand.

She felt more of the tension ease. "Red---oh thank you," she breathed, as Shen sat. "Thank you."

Red Djinni looked into her eyes and she felt as if he was willing calm into her. "It'll be fine. Just go slow. Stop if you need to. We're all friends here.

She took a deep breath. "OK. I'm a magician. I was a damned good magician before I f-d up my entire life."

October Star coughed. "Please continue."

She shook her head. "Oh Star," she said in despair. "Believe me, you have no clue---" But before they could react to the despair in her voice, she was ploughing grimly onwards. "Thing is, I can still *read* magic even if I'm having to earn my way back up from the bottom. And I have international contacts like you would not believe in magical circles. And I am a bigger paranoid freak than a catholic priest in Stalinist Moscow. Getting the picture so far?"

Shen Fai-Long nodded.

"No one. NO ONE comes in my door without my checking him or her out sixty-five ways from Sunday," she said grimly.

Star looked up with a raised brow. "I am glad someone is. What has this to do with..."

"Please don't interrupt," Red said, as she struggled to get her momentum back. "Let her talk."

She found her feet again. "So this sweet, shy little thing comes in with a dossier that makes her look like Van Helsing on a good day---"

October Star bit his lip.

Vickie felt her voice cracking. "No f-ing way. Girl does NOT match dossier. Says she's been sealed to a family-tradition magical cult from birth. That checks with what I can read. What does NOT check is that she's supposed to be this amazing vampire hunter. Girl had three spells to her name and no magical 'calluses,' if she'd had her powers for more than a week, I would be surprised out of my socks. So, ok....for some reason Moscow wants RS to think this poor child is a real uber vampire hunter. I tell Bella this. Bella is as peranoid as I am."

Shen Fai-Long looked apprehensive as if a million thoughts were running through his mind.

He knows, she thought. At least this much. She continued. "And Bell's a whole lot more potiective of Red Saviour than I am." She looked to Djinni. "Red, should I cut to the chase here, or continue with my research?"

He sighed. "Might as well spill it."

Shen Fai-Long nodded. "It is okay, continue as you were."

It wasn't getting any easier, but at least it wasn't getting any harder. "This is Bella's take, Moscow hates Red Saviour."

October Star snorted. "No kidding."

Well, at least she didn't have to convince a hard-liner. "They want to be rid of her so bad they can taste it."

"They hate all of us," Star said bleakly, as Shen stared.

"Like it or not, Red Saviour IS CCCP," she "Without her, it falls apart."

Red Djinni sighed. "The evidence points to Thea being the catalyst for RS's fall," he said reluctantly.

Now time to give them a little new data. "What you may not know is that what Bella helped Red and Mosca with in Las Vegas was an attempt to take Red over by a Russian super called HypnoSister."

Shen's eyes bulged.

"That didn't work," she said, "and we think Thea is the backup plan."

October Star II looked stricken. "You are thinking she is mole?"

Red Djinni sighed. "Not exactly."

Time to be truly brutal. "No, I we think she's the sacrificial lamb."

"They are planning to get my sister killed? Shen said in a small voice.

Red looked down.

Vickie gave them the truth, as the daughter of two FBI agents saw it. "Yes. Real dead. No rez, no hospital, and please do not make me recite all the ways that can be done. It is TRIVIALLY easy."

Red paled more than a little, as did Star. Shen gulped.

"Aye," Red agreed reluctantly.

"Bell thought of a few," Vickie continued. "I'm a writer. I made a list. I stopped at 34. Now, what happens when this sweet, pretty, shy young thing turns up dead on Red Saviour's watch?"

Poor Shen looked as if someone had hit him with a brick.

"Disgrace, censure, demotion," she said, grimly. "Or Red Saviour herself resigns. Bella has been upgrading the comp systems over there at CCCP HQ and she's been reading files. Cause, you know, no one told her not to. The last time something like this happened, and Red Saviour resigned, she went on the drinking binge to end them all. And tragic accidents happen to drunks. They go swimming with Lusca and become dinner. They fall into wood-chippers."

Star looked like a warhorse hearing the bugles. "So I keep Thea close, and keep her away from People's Blade."

"And I will do the same!" Shen began.

"Ah---no, not exactly," she corrected. "Of all the people you can trust, People's Blade is probably on the top of the list."

Red nodded. "Aye. And we are all watching her.. Too much, will arose suspicion."

Vickie spread gloved hands. "We think People's Blade knows all of this already. We think Thea spilled her guts to Fei Li for some reason."

Star nodded. "So we tell Comrade Saviour."

Another duck in that row. "That's in Bestial Boy's hands. He's a Commissar, Bell left it to him."

Star looked grim, but oddly elated. "CCCP does not need Sanction from Moscow to operate."

First sensible thing she'd heard today. "Damn straight, Comrade," she said. "So far the ones in this little paranoia sewing circle are Red here, BB, Communard, Agn, Shuma, Bella, me.., Johnny Murdock...am I missing anyone?"

Red Djinni shook his head. "None that I can see."

Star's mouth curved down in a grim frown. "We are leftovers from dead era. In truth...if we wished, I am not certain it would be hard for the CCCP to reinstitute the iron curtain."

She snorted. "You're too socialist for the perestroikans and not hardline enough for the Stalinists. And that's a fact jack." Djinni was holding her hand warmly; she was cold with fear, and pulled courage from that warmth.

"Perhaps," said Star, rubbing his forehead, "But I look good on poster."