Cross Paths: Chapter 18

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.

Deserted Streets
Rochester, New York
September 9, 2217
Invisible to the naked eye, the black metal ball sped across the deserted city, its sensors zeroing in on a long line of human figures walking slowly down the street. The drone circled around the group to approach it from the side. Mrs. Smith did a quick count: one hundred and sixty-four children.
“Dammit,” Smith said to herself as the drone slowed to a stop. “It’s the boys!”
Smith should have felt guilty at the disappointment running through her, but was too focused on the task at hand to allow the distraction. She kept the drone camoflaged as she surveyed the scene to come up with a plan of action.
Twelve Monks marched alongside the single-file line of young boys. It looked like the boys were between the ages of 10 and thirteen, making Mrs. Smith wonder at the school’s total student body. While, granted, this wasn’t the only school in a rather large city, the shortness of the line in front of her did indicate a reduction in the city’s total population.
“Ten years is a long time,” Smith thought to herself. “Long enough for a lot of accidents and disease.”
Smith focused her attention on the Monks. Each of them had a sword in hand, while several had a crossbow slung over their shoulders.  “I have to keep their attention focused on me,” she told herself. Adjusting the computer simulation housing her consciousness to improve her reflexes, she ordered the drone to drop its mask of invisibility and resume the illusion of human form.
An old woman materialized a short distance away from the boys. She was wearing a trim black coverall with black combat boots. She spread her arms out to each side and a shimmering irredescant sword appeared in each hand. The boys spotted her first, and it was their muttered comments that attracted the attention of the Monks. Smith wanted to yell out something insulting and/or provocative, but nothing came to mind. So she simply yelled wordlessly in a really loud voice and ran at the Monks with surprising speed.
Monks on this side of the line of boys ran directly towards Smith, while those on the opposite side pushed the students aside so they could join their fellows. But none of them could move fast enough to intercept the black-clad woman. Two Monks managed to lose their heads before they could even lift their swords. A third Monk swung his own sword at Smith’s head, but the shimmering blade in her left hand sliced easily through the Monk’s weapon, leaving little more than an empty hilt in his hand. A forth man swung at Smith’s head, and it looked for a moment like he would succeed in decapitating her. But the sword passed harmlessly through her illusion of a body, and the man, carried by his own momentum, whirled around, pivoting on his right foot. Smith reached out with her right hand, and severed the Monk’s spine with her sword. That man collapsed to the ground, his torso nearly split in two.
Smith spotted one of the Monks turn tail and run away as fast as his feet would carry him. She took note of that, and began tracking him with the drone’s sensors.
“Thank you for volunteering,” she muttered to his retreating form.
Five down.
With her mind and reflexes sped up, the remaining Monks were moving in slow motion.
Another Monk connected with his sword, and the blade nearly hit the black sphere at the heart of the illusion that was Mrs. Smith. Fortunately, she was quick enough to move just enough for the man to miss the hardware. Her own blade went into his chest and cut his heart away from his vascular system.
Six down.
Without warning, Smith squatted close to the ground and swept out with her two swords. The weapons sliced through the legs of two Monks and they tumbled to the ground. In another circumstance, she might have let it go at that and allowed the men to live. But then she caught a glimpse of one boy’s shocked and terrified expression and fury took control of her. All it took was a little twitch of each arm, and the two were dead.
Eight down.
A flight of steel-tipped wooden crossbow bolts came at her, and she allowed them to hit the forcefields that supported the illusion of humanity, upping the field strength so that the bolts broke as they struck. To the Monks, it was as if she was wearing armor under the black outfit.
Before one Monk knew what was happening, Smith was upon him. Her right-hand sword cut his crossbow in half, followed immediately by the left-hand weapon that decapitated him.
Nine down.
She found the counting therapeutic, keeping the anger under control — keeping her focused on the job at hand.
By now, the two remaining Monks were beginning to panic. So few seconds had passed since the start of Smith’s attack that neither of them had had time to fully absorb what was happening. Smith could have used that panic to acare the men off, scattering them in all directions.
But there were the boys to consider!
There was no way she could remain with them and see them to safety. She still had the girls’ to save. If she left any of the Monks alive, they’d return here and finish what they’d started. By this point, the anger was dying down in her chest and her conscience was beginning to take hold once more.
Two left, not counting the coward she was still tracking.
Mercy just wasn’t an option!
Neither Monk had managed to get far while Smith was considering her options. They wouldn’t get any farther.
Eleven down.
Then only a single Monk was left, still running as fast has his legs would go, but it wasn’t going to be fast enough.
“No,” Smith told herself grimly. “Not nearly enough.”
But first, the boys: standing alone and scared in the middle of the deserted street. Putting on her most pleasant, grandmotherly expression, she approached the milling, terrified children.
“Gather ’round, please,” she called out briskly, doing her best not to scare them further. “Come on,” she reassured “You’re safe. The Monks won’t hurt you now. Come on.” Mrs. Smith waved her arms to gather the boys closer. “I have some instructions for you. Don’t worry, you’ll be alright if you stay calm and do what I say. Now I need you all to go right home. It’s not safe to stay here. But you need to keep an eye out for more Monks. If you see them before they see you, hide until they’re gone. If they spot you before you can do that, run away as fast as you can and then hide once you’re out of sight. But whatever you do, do not — I repeat: do not — let them follow you home. If they do, they’ll most likely hurt your parents before they kidnap you again. Please, you’ll be alright if you simply remain calm and follow my instructions. Once you reach your home, tell you family to move into one of the vacant apartments in a different building. That’s important. The school has all your personal records, including your home addresses, so it’s vital nobody’s there when the Monks start looking for you.”
“You’re not staying with us?” one of the younger boys called out from the back of the crowd. “You can’t leave us alone.”
The complaint hurt the old woman to her core, but there was nothing she could do about it. “I’m sorry,” she replied, holding both hands up in a placating motion. “But I can’t. You see, the girls are still in danger. They need rescuing, too, you know.”
“Can we help?” another fellow asked. Smith’s heart went out to the courage required to make the offer.
“Afraid not,” she replied. “You can help best by getting your folks out of danger. Now, go. And if any of you live too far from here, or aren’t sure where home is, go home with one of your friends. Is that clear? The same holds true if you don’t want to be walking by yourself. Buddy up, and stay alert.” She waved her hands to shoo them on their way, and the boys broke up into groups.
Turning her back on them, she focused on the sensor trace of the twelfth Monk. Storm clouds formed in the woman’s eyes as she began running after the man. After a dozen paces, the illusion of humanity faded away and a black metal sphere hurtled through the air.

Eddie Warren finally stopped running — not because he wanted to, but because his body was on the verge of collapse. Standing in the middle of the deserted street, half bent-over with his hands on his knees, his breath came in ragged, desperate gasps.
“Dammit,” he said to himself, “I joined the Monks to avoid fighting!” He stood like that for a long while, eyes squeezed shut as he tried to catch his breath.
Suddenly, a black metal baseball struck him hard in the backside, sending him flying face-first into the street. Unseen by Eddie, the sphere reformed into the black-clad old woman. After a moment or two of watching the man cowering there at her feet, Smith reached through the illusion and into a hidden compartment of the black sphere. When the hand emerged, there was a microscopic tracker embedded on the tip of her index finger. “I doubt this bastard knows crap,” she thought to herself. “But maybe he’ll lead me to someone who does.”
Reaching down, Smith grabbed the back of Eddie’s robes and hauled him single-handedly to his feet. Turning him around, she grabbed him by the neck (incidentally inserting the tracker under the skin behind his left ear), allowing him just enough air to breathe.
“Now,” she said, using her best granny-has-a-gun-so-you-better-behave tone of voice,”I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you’re going to give me answers, understood?” The hand around his neck squeezed once for emphasis, and Eddie nodded, his eyes wide with fear.
“First one’s easy. What’s your name?”
“Eddie,” he managed to choke out. Smith gave his throat a little more slack. “Eddie Warren.”
“Very good, Eddie. See how easy that was? Now, second question’s just as simple. Where were you taking the boys?”
“Division 3 training facility.”
“Which is where, Eddie?”
“Manfred High School. ‘Sgot biggest athletic field in town. Perfect for boot camp.” She gave the man a momentary squeeze, enough to cut off his air completely. She quickly got her anger under control and allowed him to breathe again. “Now, Eddie, one last question, and this is the big one. Give me a straight answer and I’ll let you go. Understand me?” Eddie nodded as best as he could under the circumstances.
“Wonderful,” Smith said in a seemingly-pleasant voice. “Where are the girls, Eddie? Where did they take the girls?”
Eddie shook his head, panic in his eyes. “I…I don’t know,” he managed to say. “Th…they don’t tell me everything. I…I just joined them. I don’t think they trust me.”
Reflecting on how the man ran away instead of helping to defend his fellows, Smith gave him a humorless grin and said “Yeah, I wonder why.” But she believed he was telling the truth. With all the drone’s sensors focused on him, she could tell if he were lying. He wasn’t. As expected, he couldn’t help her find the girls. Well, not directly, anyway. She decided to fall back on Plan-B. Still holding on to Eddie’s neck with her right hand, she grabbed the man’s right wrist with her left.
“Now for a little show,” she thought to herself.
“Palm up and spread your fingers,” she commanded. He did as he was told. Holding her left hand above his right, Smith manipulated the holographic projection to produce a thin spray of red light that swept over the man’s hand, first from fingertip to wrist, and then again from thumb to little finger. Totally meaningless, of course, but the technological hocus pocus had the desired effect on the cowardly Monk.
“Wh…what was that?” he asked.
“Just scanned your bio-metrics,” she lied in a bored voice. “Looked you up in the city’s database so I now know where you live. If you’ve been lying to me, Eddie, I’ll find you. I’ll find you and we’ll … continue … this little chat. Goodbye, Eddie. I’ll be in touch.” She pushed him face-first to the ground. The moment he was facing away from her, she dropped the human form and became the little black drone, which sped away down the street.
“Home’s now the last place he’ll run to,” Smith told herself. “He knows I’ll be waiting for him there. With luck, there’s only one place left he can go: Headquarters. He’ll expect the other Monks to keep him safe. Too bad they can’t.”

City Hall
Rochester, New York
September 9, 2217

Unlike some of his fellows, this particular Lord didn’t believe in maintaining the illusion of monkish austerity. This one had moved right into the Mayor’s plush office, where he set up shop.
“Lord?” his second-in-command said cautiously upon entering the room. “My apologies for disturbing you.”
“Yes, yes,” the alien Lord replied, glad he’d not removed the mask and gloves that concealed his non-terrestrial origins. “What is it?”
“Lord, one of the Harvest squads is overdue at the training facility. How do you wish it handled?”
“Find them, of course. Send another squad to look for them.”
“And when they’re found, Lord?”
“Make a public example of them. I want everyone — particularly the children — to know that tardiness will not be tolerated.”
“Yes, Lord. Right away, Lord.”

Deserted Streets
Rochester, New York
September 9, 2217

The sun was setting between several buildings when Smith finally stopped searching for the girls. Wherever they’d been taken, the trail was now cold. It looked like that gambit with Eddie would bear fruit after all. Homing on Eddie’s tracker, Smith began moving in on him.

To be continued …

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