Cross Paths: Chapter 9

An Army of the Cross story

(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.

This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.

August 18, 2217
Mrs. Smith stood with her right arm outstretched, the point of the sword in her hand pressing against the neck of the figure in dirty monk’s robes. The sensors that were part of her drone-body told her all she needed to know about this ragged “monk”: he was an alien, the same inhuman species that was behind the Army of the Cross, the so-called “Monochrome Monks”.
The old woman had a hot temper. She knew that, and did her best to control it, but under the circumstances, there was nothing she could do. The dead bodies scattered across the streets of the small town infuriated her. While it was unlikely that an alien hand had actually wielded the sword that killed these people, it was an alien who commanded it be done.
And yet, as much as her anger urged Mrs. Smith to kill the monk and be done with it, she hesitated. Killing a man in cold blood just wasn’t right, even if the “man” wasn’t really a man. Then the monk surprised her.
“Do it,” he said, the sound emerging from a device hanging from his neck. He kept his head down so his hood would conceal his inhuman face.
The sword withdrew a couple of centimeters.
“Excuse me?” she reacted, puzzlement clear in her own artificial voice. The monk’s voice synthesizer was a little better than her own.
“You’d be doing me a favor, actually,” he explained. “You see, I’m dying. It’s this place, you see. I don’t know how you Grounders deal with it. The heavy gravity, thick atmosphere, high humidity … it’s unnatural! If I don’t get out soon, it’s going to kill me.”
Mrs Smith found herself being drawn into the conversation despite her anger and outrage.
“They why don’t you leave?” she asked.
“Because I’ve been exiled,” the monk reached up and threw back the hood, revealing a head devoid of hair, ears and mouth. The eyes were large and expressive, but his nose was a wet slit in the center of the face. “Even if I could find transport, they won’t let me back in.”
“And what did you do to deserve that? Kill someone?”
The creature’s eyes went wide while streams of brown and gray pigmentation flowed across his face. “No, of course not!” he replied, waving his hands in the air in protest. Those hands each had five fingers, but two of those were thumbs placed on opposite sides of the hand. “Why would I ever kill?”
Mrs. Smith made a rude sound, and waved a hand to indicate the decomposing bodies.
“I didn’t do that!” he insisted. “Please, you must believe me. I would never … could never …” The creature sighed, a stream of air blown out through the nose-slit causing the flap covering that slit to make a gentle flub-flubbing sound. “It’s the reason they exiled me. I don’t approve of their methods. They felt … feel, rather … that Grounders aren’t human. They’re only animals …” His eyes went down at that. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “That was rude of me, I suppose, but that’s how they feel. That’s how they justify the War with your people — they’re protecting themselves from animals.”
“They ever tell you why they started the War?”
“No, why should they? We all have our jobs to do. Theirs is to make decisions …”
“Yeah, and yours is to obey,” Mrs. Smith replied, lowering the blade. The weapon shimmered for an instant before fading away. “I’ve heard that line before. To be fair, your leaders are scared spitless. They feel that their backs are against the wall, and they’ve no choice. Doesn’t make it right, you understand, but at least they’re being rational.”
“You … sound like you know my people. Most unusual.
“Yeah, well I happen to know what started that little War. And this …” Once again, the old woman waved her right hand to indicate the corpses lying about. “… is still a part of it. The Light Years War isn’t over, my friend, not by a long shot.”
The alien started at the word “friend”, and nodded his head. “If you don’t mind, please. What did start the War? When I asked that question, my supervisor became most upset.”
Mrs. Smith frowned and seemed to sink into herself.
“It was my fault,” she muttered in a low voice.
“I don’t understand,” the monk said.
“Well, it’s a long story. Suffice it to say that I did something. It saved a lot of lives, your people as well as mine. But it had repercussions. Some of those repercussions scared the living daylights out of your leadership, and as a result they attacked my people.”
“Perhaps if you explained the facts to the Council …?”
“Nah, I thought of that. Even if I could get an audience with them, I’ve lived long enough to know that politicians of any stripe never listen to reason. The only thing they react to is fear, and fear is never rational. In my experience, the only thing a man with a club respects is someone with an even bigger club.”
“I wish I could believe you’re wrong, but from what I’ve witnessed these last few … years … I fear you may be correct.”
“So what are you doing here? If you didn’t cause all this death and destruction, why stay?”
“The local animals are very dangerous, and I’m not trained to defend myself. The bodies ought to be attracting carnivores, but they stay away. At least for the moment. I don’t know why. Perhaps the burning smell repels them. But here I can lock myself in one of the buildings and remain safe. At least for the time being. Eventually, I’ll have to move on.”
“But you said you’re dying.”
“The environment is slowly killing me. I can do nothing about that, except to get it over with more quickly. Each day the discomfort is worse than the day before. But suicide isn’t in my nature.”
“All because you said the wrong thing to your … ah … supervisor?”
“To him and others. Discontent isn’t tolerated. Violators are … recycled.”
“Yeah, ‘recycled’. Wonderful euphemism you’ve got there, Clive.”
“Ah, your pardon, but my name is not ‘Clive’.”
Mrs Smith laughed.
“Which reminds me,” she said. “We haven’t been formally introduced. My name is Mrs. Smith. What’s yours?
“My name is Chases Comets. I was an Astronomer before the War. That was a long time ago, of course. My people are longer-lived than yours. At least, normally.”
“Tell me, Chase, are you with this Army? I mean, the people marching around killing unbelievers, torturing innocents and threatening children? Do you side with them, or not?”
“What choice do I have? I tried to fight them. I did what I could to stop the violence, and look what happened. They banished me to live with the Grounders I tried to defend while the violence continues unabated. One man can’t make a difference.”
“No,” Mrs. Smith replied with a big grin. “But maybe one woman can. What do you say, Chase? Are you with me? I’ll even make a deal with you. You help me stop this damned Army, and I’ll do my best to get you off this rock and back into space where you belong.”
“I won’t kill,” he warned her. “Not Grounders and certainly not my fellows. I don’t care what you say. I won’t do it.”
“No problem, ” she replied. “After today,” the old woman looked around at the carnage and shuddered, “I think I’ve had my fill as well.”
“Then you’ve talked me into it. It still sounds impossible, though. Do you really think we’ll succeed?
“Won’t know till we try now, will we?”
Smith reached out with her right hand, and the alien looked at it for a long moment before tentatively reaching out with his own. They shook.

To be continued…

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