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  | Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Villains & Vigilantes | The Revolution | Fifty Years Ago | First Night |





    The guard did not return to the front of the house, which now appeared unguarded. She did a slow circuit and found the one who had been sent off by Martin lying unconscious under a shrubbery. Martin was still by the gatehouse... at least, she was fairly sure it was Martin.
    The White Rose climbed dripping onto the empty ship and look around. It was sail-powered, with a motor backup. Weapons crates were scattered about untidily, two still holding guns, and what looked to him like a goodly amount of explosives, enough to take down, say, a vault door. He didn't normally have to use explosives in his line of work, but there had been the one vampire....
    Since he was on the boat, the Rose disabled the motor and cut the ropes so they couldn't raise sail. He didn't want to damage it too much, it did belong to a friend of his. Then he found a hiding spot on the deck and waited.
    Vanguard kept scanning.
    "All right, the curtain's going up," an officer said. "Have we seen anything yet?"
    "Nope. Nothing's going on here."
    There was a sound of smashing glass from the back of the mansion.
    From her position Argus could see the call girl's silhouette in an upstairs window, placing something over a man's mouth and catching him as he slumped, then stepping out of view.
    Shocking. Just shocking. Well, let it be a lesson for Mr. Fitzgerald, then. She gunned the bike silently and moved around toward the back of the house.
    "Things have started here," she told Vanguard. "No major activity yet..."
    "If there's one thing I appreciate it's a truly attentive audience," a quiet voice behind her said. She froze. "How are you this evening?"
    "I'm fine. How are you?"
    "I had wondered—the newspaper reports said that you were an attractive young woman. Newspaper reports so seldom get things right. I'm stunned that we haven't met before. I'm the Muse, how are you?" He stepped into her line of vision and offered her a hand.
    "I'm fine," she repeated, not shaking. She hadn't seen him at all at the gunshop. The Rose hadn't mentioned the way he moved, or... or a lot of things, really.
    He looked somewhat miffed. "I do wash regularly."
    "I'm certain, however. Certain formalities must be observed in these situations."
    "But I feel it's such a shame for the two of us to actually get into a conflict here. Well, a certain degree of conflict yes, but I have immense respect for you."
    "And I for you." Why was her heart beating so fast? "That business with the newspaper was quite clever."
    "I wanted to make sure that I got your attention," he smiled. "I am impressed that you're here. I... I had hoped you would be, it's been some time since I've had someone who would actually qualify as being a worthy adversary."
    "I think you'll find there are several."
    "Oh, your companions this evening? The Rose gentleman seems quite sharp. And Captain Vanguard is very gallant, from everything that I've been told."
    "That he is."
    Captain Vanguard was also on his way, having overheard most of the conversation over the open radio link. "I hate this town," he muttered to himself.
    "I realize the formalities are going to have to start soon," the Muse said regretfully. "Judging from the sound of your friend's incoming conveyance. When everything's over, give me a call." He handed her a card with a phone number on it. "I was wondering, maybe we could do dinner, or something."
    "That sounds delightful," she heard herself say.
    He glanced up. "He's getting closer. I'm afraid I must be off."
    "I'm afraid I must try to stop you."
    "Cover your ears," Vanguard told her. At the same time the Muse said, "I recommend that you cover your ears."
    There was an explosion from inside the house. Vanguard swooped in; a stun grenade dropped from its hatch into the basket where the baffles could focus the sound of the detonation. The trees around them shook, raining down leaves and small branches.
    "How romantic," she murmured. He smiled into her eyes, swooped her up in his arms, kissed her in a manner that left her completely without breath, and was gone. She watched the passage of Vanguard's autogyro in pursuit, trying to get the fleeing man on his radar before losing him in the woods. Looked at the card in her hand, then toward the house.
    Vanguard gained altitude; he would be able to pick the Muse out if he made a move toward the house, at least. The house didn't seem to be on fire; perhaps they'd jacked the safe? There, a man running full-tilt toward the front door from the direction of the gate. He was wearing a guard's uniform, so Vanguard held his fire.
    From the boat, the White Rose saw the back door open and a group of people come out, carrying shouldered weapons and a variety of bags. Vanguard flicked on his spotlight and opened fire on the silhouetted criminals. Three women dropped, the other three staggered; the man with them appeared unaffected.
    The White Rose counted women and wondered where the other two were, watching the man run toward the boat. There was no sign of the Muse. Three of the women cleared their heads, dropped their weapons, grabbed their bags, and sprinted for the boat, apparently willing to leave their companions behind.
    "I hate to do this girls, but it's the most humane solution." Vanguard dropped another grenade and dropped the other three, set the autogyro to hover and climbed down the ladder. "I feel bad about that, but you deserved it," he informed the stunned lasses.
    The haze finally clearing from her vision, Argus shook herself, got back on the bike, and headed toward where all the excitement seemed to be. Vanguard had the henchwomen well in hand for a change, and the big guy she'd seen the previous night was running for the boat; she opened up the throttle and raced after him. They both jumped; their paths intersected in midair.
    As he spun from the impact he pulled two things from his back and ratcheted them together right in front of her; electricity arced madly off either end of the thing and a tangle of armored woman, motorcycle, and Egyptian cat-god crashed onto the deck in a halo of ball lightning. He was rolling as he touched down; she instinctively wrenched the bike around to keep from continuing off the deck and spun around so they were facing. He didn't seem bothered by the skid mark on his chest, holding the sparking staff before him. In the electrical glow she could barely make out the White Rose behind him.

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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson