Declare

9,049
07.03.2019

The thighs of his trousers and the front of his shirt were soaked, and his shoes were sloshing with cold water, when he came crouching up to the broken wall. He was well south of the trucks and any evident soldiers, but his view of the expansive square was fine-in the shadows ahead of him to his left he could dimly see men climbing on the idling crane lorry, and he could even see the smoke from the lorry's throbbing exhaust-and since he was now seeing the Brandenburg Gate almost end-on, he could clearly make out the lorries on the eastern side through the waving veils of rain.

One was a big American flatbed truck, and Hale was bewildered to see that it had a boat braced up on the bed of it, an Arabic-looking vessel with an extended tapering stem-post that projected over the truck cab, and a long, downward-curved yard moored to the mast.

The sheer inappropriateness of the thing, here, frightened him. Hale's breathing was quick and shallow, and he was glad of the low clouds that hid the stars; his chest went abruptly cold when he caught a gleam far up in the air over the stone horses on the high pediment of the gate, and he only relaxed a little when he realized that it was a low-hanging weather balloon, perhaps tethered to the boat.

His thoughts were of the stones, the anchor stones, that had been taken from Mount Ararat to Moscow in 1883 and set up in the Lubyanka basement-big rectangular stones with rings carved at the top-and he remembered the Trotskyite fugitive in Surrey who had drawn a picture of one for him and had drawn a cross on the rectangle to emphasize the fact that the thing was a form of the Egyptian ankh.

Hale gasped and his hand darted into his pocket to touch the gun when he glimpsed movement not far away to his right, to the east-but it was two figures over on the far side of the Koniggratzer Strasse, in the Soviet Sector, hunching north, away from him, through an unlit bombed lot. As he exhaled his indrawn breath and slowly let his fingers unclamp from the gun's grip, he watched them appear and disappear against the more distant lights, darting from one low section of broken masonry to another, and he wondered who on earth they could be, and what their purpose was in being here.

Hale heard the rain getting suddenly louder to the east, and so he was braced against the wall when the gust struck-and then he turned his face to the bricks, away from the stinging drops that were flying at him almost horizontally.

The wall moved against his hands, and his first thought was that a truck had coasted silently up from the other side and struck it; then his feet slid out from under him on the wet pavement and he was kneeling, and the pavement was rocking.

This was an earthquake, though he had never heard of an earthquake in Berlin. And only belatedly did he realize that the rain was warm, and that the wind that flung it was sour with a metallic, oily smell. In a moment the ground had steadied, and he was able to get back up on his feet in the darkness.

When he raised his head and squinted at the trucks on the east side of the pillars, something tall and blurry was moving now in the air over the boat, where the balloon had been-it was a whirlwind, a glittering black funnel of rain-haze that swayed and flexed like a reared cobra. And with a sinking heart he remembered one of the reports he had read in Broadway, "Coriolis Force Singularities: Incidence of Anomalous Rotational Meteorological Phenomena in Moscow, 1910-1930."

It's over there-The thought was a panicky wail in his head. I've got to go over there.

Before he could think about it, before he might remember the terror of his New Year's dreams, he pushed away from the wall and ran heavily against the battering warm wind that flipped his coat-tails up behind him, across the four broad, empty lanes to the Soviet side of the boulevard.

In a shadowy doorway he leaned against a wall and tugged the pistol out of his pocket. Theodora had said it was a captured German gun, a Walther P-38, with eight 9-millimeter rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. Hale had read the circulars on it, and knew that the first shot would be a long double-action pull on the trigger, lifting and dropping the hammer, but the remaining eight shots would be single-action, with each brief trigger-pull simply dropping the recoil-cocked hammer.

He shoved it back into his soggy pocket, numbly wondering if he would be able to fire a quarter-ounce leaden slug, moving at the speed of 1150 feet per second, into a living man's body. Perhaps soon he would know-to his cost, surely, either way.

The two figures he had glimpsed on this side of the road a minute ago had seemed to move with furtive assurance, so when he stepped out of the doorway he strode to the lot they had crossed.

In moving north after them he imitated their approach and darted from one patch of masonry shadow to the next, pausing before each new shift of position to glance behind him and to the sides-as well as straight ahead, where a couple of hundred feet away the tall whirlwind still spun and glittered in the refracting headlamp beams. As he watched, the boat's long yardarm broke free of the mast and cartwheeled away into the darkness.

Perhaps the Russians had big radio speakers up there on the Unter den Linden pavement-for even above the whistle-chorus of the wind he could hear the pounding chant of les parasites. He did at least feel anonymous out here in the rubbled, gravelly dark-there was no sensation of big attention being paid to him.

He hurried to a fallen pillar, and peered over it-and then didn't move, for the two figures he had been following were crouched behind a broken wall just twenty feet in front of him. Keeping his white face down in the shadows, he looked left and right, and to his left he saw the tall crane swaying against the dark sky as its platform rolled slowly northeast, toward the gate from the western side. The warm rain tasted oily and salty in Hale's open, panting mouth.

Hale was having trouble focusing his eyes on the twisting rain funnel over the boat. The space it occupied in the perceived landscape didn't change, but at one moment it seemed to be rushing directly away from him and increasing in size, and at the next seemed to be shrinking rapidly and flying straight into his eyes.

And the inorganic articulated roaring was clearly coming from it. Its sinuous form curled in the rainy air, and he found himself momentarily seeing vast shoulders, or an outcropping hip, or long flowing hair, in its contours. The noise it made was like the throbbing of a bomber's engines now, but Hale was unhappily sure that it was forming the syllables of some language-and though it was made of nothing but wind and water and smoke, he was sure it was female.

You were born to this, Elena had told him in Paris.

The truck carrying the boat shuddered visibly as it was shifted into gear, and then it was rolling slowly west toward the Brandenburg Gate as if to meet the crane there, and the ever-more-solid-looking whirlwind moved with it like a living tower; another flatbed lorry accelerated up from the south to pace it, and on the bed of this one Hale could see a gray rectangle with a bump on the top that might have been a loop.

The parasites roar was recognizably musical now, though conforming to no human scale, and Hale's first thought was a paraphrase from the King James Book of Job: When the midnight comets sang together.

The clouds overhead flickered with interference fringes, illusionary flashes of red and gold in the moire patterns where the whirlwind's veils and tresses overlapped and seemed even to brush the contours of the underlit clouds-Hale's thoughts fragmented into conflicting moods and half-phrases and one alien but complete sentence: Zat al-Dawahi, Mistress of Misfortunes, look favorably upon our sacrifice!-and then one of the figures twenty feet in front of Hale stood up from a crouch and aimed some sort of handgun up at the churning column of storm. Hale fell back into the shadow of his own concealment, horrified that this person was about to draw attention to this area.

Bang. Hale saw a reflected flashbulb wink of muzzle flash, and then the ringing night seemed to erupt in shouts and thudding boots. He crouched lower behind the broken pillar, not even breathing at all, his hand gripping the pistol in his pocket.

He heard scuffling, and then he heard a woman's voice cry out in angry pain-and he stood up, for the voice was Elena's.

Figures were struggling against the broken wall, but closer to him two Russian soldiers had wrestled someone to the pavement, and Hale saw that they were trying to pry a gun from a woman's clenched hand; and it seemed to Hale that the woman was trying desperately hard to turn the gun on herself rather than toward the soldiers.

Kill herself, flashed a horrified thought through Hale's mind, sooner than go back to Moscow.

"Elena!" he screamed as he yanked the Walther out of his pocket and pointed the muzzle at the broad back of the closest soldier, "wait!"

The other soldier hitched around toward Hale, reaching for a holster, and Hale swung the muzzle toward him and pulled the resistant trigger.

The hard pop! of the gunshot battered his ears and the muzzle flash dazzled him, but Hale simply crouched to make sure of not hitting Elena and then blindly fired another shot, upward toward the man wrestling over her.

He could see past the flash-glare in his retinas now, and he raised the barrel of his pistol as Elena rolled to her feet and fired her own gun once at the man Hale had just shot at, and then a second time toward the figures rolling along the irregular wall.

Another gunshot flared and cracked close at hand, and then through the ringing in his ears Hale heard Cassagnac's voice: "Is it Lot? We must run north, look."

Cassagnac nodded behind, toward the hollowed buildings to the south, and when Hale looked back that way he saw silhouettes with rifles jogging this way.

Elena grabbed Hale's arm and yanked him forward, after Cassagnac, and then the three of them were simply running north across the shadowed, rubbled lot, hopping over chunks of stone and skidding in puddles. Hale glimpsed her face under the flying white hair-dark blood slicked her mouth, but her teeth were bared in what might have been at least partly a desperate grin.

The lorry with the gray rectangular stone in the bed of it had sped up, and now rocked to a halt right next to the Brandenburg Gate columns on the eastern side; and on the western side the crane had been driven up to within a hundred feet of it. Through the hot rain Hale could see men carrying the end of a cable east between the columns.

Hale saw a man briefly tumble through the air as the roaring whirlwind moved out across the pavement away from the boat, toward the gate; its droning inhuman syllables shook the air and seemed to rattle Hale's teeth even at this fifty yards' distance, and bits of stone were falling from the gate's high pediment.

Though Hale and his companions were being pursued from the south, none of the Soviet soldiers around the lorries appeared to have noticed the intrusion yet-their attention was doubtless focused on the stone and the crane and the living tornado, and certainly radios wouldn't work correctly on this night.

But a jeep at the west end of the square had started forward, and though it halted at the edge of the lot, the driver was backing and filling to keep the headlamp beams on the three fugitives who were running toward the Unter den Linden pavement and the Arab boat, and Hale could hear the jeep's horn honking out the old Rote Kapelle radio code for danger, danger.

And now to the east he saw headlamps moving north along the boulevard that passed Hitler's Chancellery; and from somewhere out there a searchlight beam swept the lot in a moving fan of long black shadows on white-lit pavement, and after passing Hale and his companions once, it swung back and fixed on them.

Cassagnac hopped and skidded to a halt, crouching, and Hale and Elena stopped beside him and stood bent forward with their hands on their knees. They were within sprinting distance of the north edge of the lot now, with the gleaming lanes of Unter den Linden beyond.

Cassagnac's wet face seemed to have been carved out of granite in the harsh white light. "They," he panted, "won't shoot-into the Western sectors. But the soldiers-will be here-in moments. You," he said to Hale, "can surrender. Elena and I-must not be captured."

Hale permitted himself a glance at Elena. Under the sopping white hair her youthful face was drawn and pale, with blood at her lips; and too he considered the fact that he had just shot two of the soldiers who were trying to capture them. "I'll die with you," he panted dizzily.

"Good," Elena gasped, reaching out to squeeze his hand briefly. "We must get-in the boat. The soldiers must be afraid-of the monster, and perhaps won't-chase us there."

"Let us all die on the boat," agreed Cassagnac with a jerky nod.

The thing Elena had described as the monster was a whirling, flexing tower of concentrated wind and rain against the Brandenburg Gate pillars, and now with a grinding of gears the crane arm hitched strongly upward, and the rectangular gray stone was swinging in wide arcs on the western side of the gate columns. The whirlwind crashed in eddying spray against the pediment at the top, seeming to rock the whole battered structure.

Hale felt physically squeezed between the soldiers coming up from behind him and the huge supernatural creature ahead; and it took an effort for him to keep his throat open, so that he could breathe without a keening whimper.

"Go," said Cassagnac, and then he and Hale and Elena were running full-tilt straight toward the old Arab boat on the bed of the truck; Hale didn't look left or right, and he gritted his teeth and ignored the bangs of rifle fire he heard from the west and from behind.

Two splintered holes were punched into the boat's wooden hull strakes as Hale jolted across the final yards of street pavement toward it, but over the thudding of his heart and the roaring of his breath he heard a megaphone-amplified voice shouting urgently, and no further shots were fired.

Feeling naked in the glare of many pairs of headlamps, Hale clambered up onto the corrugated steel truck bed and helped Elena up beside him. The boat's hull was a high wooden curve at his shoulder, but Cassagnac had already jumped and caught the bundle of rope that was the vessel's rail, and after he had swung himself over it, he reached back down; Hale grabbed Elena by the waist, bunching her raincoat to get a good hold of her ribs, and boosted her up; she caught Cassagnac's hands, and after a few seconds of scrambling and grunting, the three of them were lying in shadow on loose tangles of rope on the boat's deck.

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