The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 30 (or, “We Are All Reminded Why Sarah Dealey Needs A Break”)
-- and then she was seated in a chair, in an office, and Sarah Dealey was seated across from her, typing something into a computer.
She felt as if she had just woken up from a long dream suddenly, as if she had overslept and Jason had turned on the lights to her room. Like she had blinked, and everything had changed. She caught her breath, motioned to speak, but Sarah looked busy.
“Yeah, not a problem,” she said, and Rifka realized Sarah was on the phone. “Gotcha. Yeah. Cool. All right. Works for me. Thanks.” She hung up, then put her communicator down, closed her eyes, and sighed. “Hey, Rifka.”
“Hi, Sarah.” Why had Rifka gotten called into Sarah’s office anyway? Had she done something wrong? Did they have a new mission? Did Rosa try to put Tama in a dress again?
Sarah put her keyboard aside and looked Rifka in the eyes. “This is the first time this has happened to you, so you’re not used to the temporary mindwipe. You failed your mission, Rifka. Dvorak won.”
Rifka blinked in confusion. “I...what?”
“You were on a mission. Your fifth mission here with us at QWERTY. When you win a mission, you come back to headquarters with your memory intact. But when the dimension doesn’t survive, your memories of it muddle for a bit. It happened when your world disappeared, and you first came to headquarters, back when we called you Milaya.”
She tried to wrap her mind around it. “We...lost? We lost a mission.” This would help if she could remember what she lost.
Sarah sighed again. “I don’t know how to make you remember, or even if you want to remember this early in the game. But this was a particularly tricky mission. Dvorak separated you from your friends at the beginning. You were sent to one world, and they were sent to another.”
Rifka stared off into space, gripping the edge of her chair, trying to remember. Separated? How could she have even started a mission by herself?
Then, it came back to her --
the long night making the potion by specific instructions
the wooded faerie castle by the sea
the crowning of the new faerie queen and ruler of the island
the dark tunnels that led to Rosa’s hiding place
the boy who had been there through it all --
She gasped, then, “Calimero,” then the tears came. And Sarah let her cry, the room silent save for Rifka’s sobs. Sarah handed Rifka a box of tissues; half the box later, she was still crying.
Sarah didn’t know how to comfort Rifka. Most of the time, operatives ignored her after failed missions, blaming Dvorak. This time, however, was so, so different, and she was finally seeing why. “You loved him.”
“I...I knew I could never go back. But...I didn’t want to fail.” Her head snapped up as she remembered her other plan. “Is he here?”
Sarah shook her head. “Nobody transferred from either world. Both worlds merged together into one.”
Rifka couldn’t wrap her mind around what that meant. Fiorazzurro as she knew it was gone forever, as well as Daisy, Sheriff Collodi, Calimero, all of the island people… “What is the world like now? Is Calimero still there? What about the others?”
“Since we weren’t able to get Calimero to limbo, everything collided at random,” Sarah noted, her own voice void of emotion. She hated this part. “For security purposes, I can’t tell you what the world is like, or specific people who survived. I did, however, call Leader Llorin just now and ask for an exception. He is very much different, but your Calimero is still alive and survived the merge.”
Rifka’s face lit up.
“But,” Sarah continued, “he is very much different than the Calimero you once knew. His past and personality have changed to fit this new world. Moreover, gone with the past world are any memories anybody had of you, your team, or QWERTY.”
Rifka nodded, tears streaming down her face again. It was over. Calimero was alive -- thank the stars -- but she would never see him again. She closed her eyes again, gritted her teeth, remembering every subway ride, the feel of sand beneath her toes, the look on his face when he challenged Rosa in Queen Cendrillon’s bedroom --
She gasped again. “Rosa.”
“Was wondering when you’d get to that. You’re more concerned about that boy than you are your own team.”
Rifka wilted a bit. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re the only one awake at the moment. Everybody was frozen by Rosa, and Rosa herself was unconscious when the merge occurred. None of you should have made it back except for you. However…” Sarah couldn’t help but grin. “Somebody’s really good at coding that boombox. Was it on?”
Rifka had to think. “It was! Calimero turned it on to switch Rosa back.”
“That’s what did it, then. That boombox messed with reality just enough at the merge to get the five of you back to headquarters. Tama, Jason, and Jen are all in their rooms, sleeping. When they wake up, I’ll have Isabel brief them. Rosa is in our intensive care department.”
“The same place Erika is,” Rifka noted.
Sarah nodded. “But I think she’ll wake up sooner than Erika will. I’d give it a little while, the equivalent to four or five days.” She folded her hands. “But I don’t want to put you back to work yet. None of you. This is the first time you’ve failed, and it’s become more personal than I would have really liked it to be. But, I guess, that worked in our favor going up against Dvorak. Your friend saved your team when nobody else could. Starting today, I’m taking the Dealey Five off the roster for eligibility.”
This had Rifka at the edge of her seat. They had worked so hard in their training to be put on the roster, the list for eligible teams to save worlds. “Why?”
“Because you’re all young. And, I mean, you’ll be young forever, but....you’ll never forget this first failure. You need time to recuperate. Rosa, in particular. I’m gonna have Isabel put you guys back in class for a while, get used to a daily routine and what not. Then, after some time has passed, I’ll put you back on a mission. Probably with Isabel. You guys are the youngest members we have in the Faction, and I want to make sure you’re taken care of.
“For now, I don’t want you to go back to your room just yet. Isabel’s watching over your pod, so I’m gonna have you stay next to Rue and Raz for a couple of nights. There’s a spare bedroom over there, and they just got back from a successful mission themselves, so they’ll be able to help. I’ve already told them everything, so if you just head to the rec room, they’ll meet up with you there. Then, when your friends are okay again, you can go back. Understood?”
She didn’t particularly like this, but it had to be done. “Okay.”
“All right. You best get going.” Sarah forced a smile. “Hey, everything will be okay. I promise.”
It took Sarah about fifteen seconds after Rifka left her room to start crying.
First, it started as sympathy. She herself had almost lost Mick once in a mission, and had come back paralyzed for weeks. Rifka shouldn’t have fallen in love over the course of two weeks, but she did, and it was something Sarah could understand.
Then, it was panic. She had almost lost all of those kids to her foolishness. She had thought that if Jen could code Dvorak out of reality, he couldn’t use his powers -- but she hadn’t banked on Dark Rosa’s existence being the catalyst to change all of that. A world without Dark Rosa was a vastly different world, and Jen’s coding meant nothing next to that. She would have to take a look at the program later, see what failsafe he had put in to make sure the entire team was okay.
She hated saying it, but she had a soft spot for the entire Dealey Five. They liked her, after all, even when she didn’t like them.
She didn’t look up when the door opened, still staring at her blurry computer screen, files all closed. She didn’t look up when Mick knelt by her chair and put a hand on her shoulder. She stayed still, cool, aloof, the untouchable Sarah Dealey.
Until Mick spoke. “We are so getting you that break.”
She sighed, then, “It hurts,” and then she leaned into Mick’s shoulder and let the tears flow. “They’re just kids.”
“And we were, too, once,” Mick said, his own voice quiet. “You’ve been through too much recently. You’ve always kept going for the sake of your career. And it never hurt you physically, because that’s how this realm works. If we were on a real world, you would have killed yourself with stress ages ago.”
Sarah nodded. “What’s your point, Mick? I can’t do more for these kids.”
“But you can. You know what you can do? Take a break. Stay here, in your room, for a while. Let me handle things. I’ll even talk to Djjriigos about a break for you --”
Sarah about lost her shit. “You will NOT talk to Djjriigos! Xi’s Llorin’s boss!”
“I will do what I need to to get you your break.” Mick’s voice was as hard as a rock. “No matter what. And they can’t fire me. Everybody around here knows that you’re boss, but behind every great boss is a great assistant. You might be putting the Dealey Five off the roster, but I need you off the roster if this faction is going to survive. And I’m sure Llorin would agree.”
Sarah hated this. Everything she had worked for, ever since she had arrived at QWERTY headquarters, was falling apart. She had held control for so long, she didn’t know what life would be like without it. “Are you sure you can keep things running? Rider and Jesse are still on mission. Belle, Cara and Octavia are about to go out. And Harley and Kiv aren’t scheduled until --”
“I promise I have it. Just promise you’ll put yourself on bed rest. Please.”
She almost objected again until she remembered the look on Rifka’s face, then closed her eyes, the screen blurring in front of her again. “Okay.”
Calimero Antonio Pineiro stood in front of the rousing crowd, head held high against the darkened sky. In front of him were thousands, tens of thousands of people, all dressed for war. The boats on the island’s shore were all painted black as night, with white roses on the side, signifying their pirated heritage. Calimero could pick out Atalaika Margherita Fae, Queen of the Pirates of the White Rose, among the crowd. She had given her allegiances to him long, long ago, as had Giovanni Collodi, mayor and ruler of this island off the coast of Italy.
The fascist dictator had come too far. He was threatening to wipe out the entire island. And Calimero, as heir to Merlin’s magical heritage, was the island’s rightful leader and emperor to all magical people in this world. No matter that he was only sixteen. He could command armies, control resources, change this world for the better.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced to the crowd, “the time has finally come. Tonight, we sail for Italy, and we take back our world from those who have stolen it from us. Tonight, we remember what is most precious to us: our freedom.”
He held his hand up in a fist, and everybody followed suit. This was their universal signal for their march, but for Calimero, it reminded him of the girl who now only visited him in dreams, the girl who had tried to save his world and had failed...and succeeded.
Nobody else remembered Rifka Ivanovna Moscavitz. But Calimero would never forget. And no matter how many people he saved on this world, he would fight until the end of days to see her again.
“For the White Rose!” he screamed, and the battle cry rang up from the masses, echoing toward the sky and whatever possibilities lay for them there.
END OF BOOK 3
NEXT STAGE 2019