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.
In the post-apocalyptic aftermath of The Light Years War, humanity is struggling to rebuild a civilization smashed by an alien adversary. But now it faces a new and unexpected challenge: an army of religious fanatics hell-bent on completing the job the aliens started. Only one person stands in their way: an old woman with a mysterious past and an agenda all her own.
Rochester, New York
September 9, 2217
“Welcome home, Ken,” the front door announced. Jennifer Warren emerged from the bathroom, a worried look on her face.
“What have you found out?” she asked her husband.
“Not a whole lot,” he admitted. “But what I have learned is … disturbing.”
“Well, for one thing,” and here he nodded towards their guest, Lorraine McGovern, who was emerging from the apartment’s tiny kitchen. “It’s a damned good thing the Mayor here’s stayed inside.”
“Why?” the Mayor asked.
“They’re looking for you,” Ken replied. “They haven’t gone building-to-building yet, but I figure it’s only a matter of time. Luckily, there are a lot of buildings around here, most of them deserted, without power. While I was out, I stopped by the Utilities room, cut electricity to the upper floors and disabled the elevator. With luck, if the Monks start searching, they’ll think we’re just another deserted building.” As with most modern buildings in Rochester, Riverside Apartments was built underground, thus the “upper floors” were the ones closest to the surface.
“Let’s hope that’s enough,” Jennifer said. “What else did you learn?”
“Nothing good, I’m afraid. I’m told they hung the entire City Council on those funny crosses of theirs. Put them on display in front of City Hall. Rumor has it they’re planning some sort of ceremony as soon as they capture you,” Ken nodded at Lorraine.
“I’m sorry I stopped by,” the Mayor apologised. “I’m putting both of you in danger just by being here.”
“Nonsense!” Ken told her firmly. “I think we both have a damned good idea what kind of ceremony they want you for. You go out there now, it’s suicide, pure and simple.”
“But if they catch me here …”
“We won’t let that happen,” Jennifer said, pulling the other woman into her arms for a big hug. She looked at her husband over the Mayor’s shoulder. “Will we, honey?”
“No,” her husband stated grimly. “We won’t.”
Suddenly, there came a pounding on the front door, rapid and insistent.
“Sss,” Ken hissed, and waved Lorraine into the bedroom. He watched her close the bedroom door.
“Let me in,” the muffled voice came from the other side of the front door. “Kenny, it’s me. Please, let me in!”
“Eddie?” Jennifer replied, slapping her hand hard on the door. “Go away. We want nothing to do with you.”
“Jen!” Ken rebuked his wife in a low whisper. Then, in a much louder voice, he addressed his younger brother. “What is it this time, Eddie? You heard Jennie. Now get lost!”
“Kennie, please. I’m in trouble. Someone’s after me. Let me in, please!”
Ken turned to his wife and shrugged. “Go into the bedroom,” he whispered in her ear. “Stay quiet. I’ll get rid of him as fast as I can.” Jennifer nodded briskly, and joined the Mayor in the bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Ken placed his hand on the black plate beside the front door and it unlocked with a snap-click.
“What do you want from me, Eddie?” Ken demanded as the door opened.
“Look, I’m in trouble. I need some place to stay.”
“You said that already,” Ken told his brother. “And you have a home to go to. I suggest you go there and leave us alone. You made your bed when you started hanging out with those Monks. And now that they’re after you for something, you come running to me? Well forget it!”
“Not them,” he insisted, placing his hand over the edge of the door to keep Ken from closing it. “They’re not after me. It’s some … some … Ninja Lady. She’ll kill me, Kenny. Please help me.”
“Eddie, what in God’s name are you talking about? What Ninja Lady?”
“She’s after me. Said she’d come after me.”
“Then go to your precious Monks for help. That’s what they’re there for, isn’t it? Aren’t you all one big brotherhood?”
“Can’t,” Eddie admitted, looking down at the floor. “I ran away. The Ninja Lady killed the others, and I ran. Kennie,” he looked up and his eyes pleaded with his older brother. “Kennie, you know I can’t keep a secret. You know that. Once they start questioning me, I’ll tell them everything. And then they’ll kill me. Please, I don’t know where else to turn.”
“Sorry, Eddie, but I won’t risk Jennie’s life just to save yours. I warned you about those Monks. I told you they’d be trouble, but you wanted to be important. You wanted to be respected. I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. I’ve pulled your ass out of the fire for the last time. Now go away, Eddie.”
But before Ken could close the door on his brother, a hand landed on Eddie’s left shoulder.
“Hello, Eddie,” Mrs Smith greeted him. “Miss me?”
Rochester, New York
September 9, 2217
Brother Lawrence, the Army’s second-in-command here in Rochester, entered the Lord’s private quarters — once the Mayor’s Office — cautiously. While the Lord wasn’t a man of mercurial moods, it still wasn’t wise to take any chances given the power that … individual … wielded.
The Monk made a point of not referring to the Lord as a “man”. Because he wasn’t, not in the usual sense, anyway. What he was — and here, Brother Lawrence had to take a deep breath — was alien. The Monk was far from stupid. He knew exactly what that meant and where the Lord was from.
It was a name that sent chills up his spine even now;a name that had appeared all over the news media during the Light Years War. And while the press had always been fond of colorful names, this was one name they hadn’t made up. It came straight from the military.
The funny thing was, the one time he’d used that name in front of the Lord, the alien simply laughed — a laugh that emerged from that mechanical voice box of his, but a laugh nonetheless.
What was so funny?
The Monk approached the huge tub that dominated the center of the room, within which the body of the Lord floated on a bed of half-liquid black gel.
“How are you feeling, Lord?” the Monk asked tentatively. “You left the meeting so abruptly, I was afraid you’d taken ill.”
“I’m fine, Brother Lawrence,” the alien replied. “This cursed gravity is getting to me. It’s getting to the point where even this doesn’t help.” He indicated the oversized bathtub with a sweep of his upper right hand. From the waist up, the alien’s body (except for the face, of course) was that of a normal human male. It was below the waist, however, that the Lord’s true origins came to light. Instead of two legs and feet, the alien had two additional arms and hands. As for that face, while the Monk had gotten used to seeing it in private, it still made his stomach crawl. Instead of a nose and mouth, the Lord had a slit that extended from the middle of his face to a point just above the chin. Breathing made the slit open and close rhythmically with a soft wet sound that the alien was oblivious to — mainly because the creature lacked ears or any sense of hearing. Without mouth or larynx, all speech was done via the electronic voice box sitting on a small table beside the tub.
“If I honestly thought I’d keep my current Platen, I’d return home now.” Platens were how his race measured their position in the species’ social and professional hierarchy. Once you lost your position in that hierarchy, it was difficult to get it back. “But I’ll just have to see it through. Once we’ve consolidated our authority here in Rochester, I can hand administration over to another. But not yet. There’s quite a lot to do before then.”
“How long can you put it off, Lord?” the Monk asked. “Aren’t you risking permanent injury?”
“Irrelevant. I’ve a job to do here. Was there something else?”
“I just received word from one of our search teams. We found the missing Monks. Eleven dead, one missing.”
“And the children?”
“Gone. We assume whoever attacked the squad took them away with them.”
“Use the school records. Send someone to the children’s homes. Take them back into custody and kill everyone else there. In front of the children, please. Let it be their first lesson in obedience. You said one of the squad’s missing? Any clues where he might be?”
“No, Lord. He might be anywhere.”
“No, they must have taken him prisoner. Have you identified him yet?”
“We’re working on it, Lord. We’re identifying the dead now. We should have a name shortly.
“When you find out who he is, interrogate his family. I want him found!”
Rochester, New York
September 9, 2217
Mrs. Smith pushed Eddie into the apartment ahead of her, closing the door behind her.
“Who the hell are you?” Ken demanded to know.
“She’s the Ninja Lady I told you about,” Eddie insisted.
“Cute,” the black-clad old woman muttered under her breath. She turned to Ken. “Hi,” she said pleasantly, holding out her right hand. “I’m Mrs. Smith. Eddie and I met out there on the street, where he and some of his friends were leading a group of school kids into slavery.” She sneered at the Monk. “I killed the others, so Eddie here should consider himself lucky to still be alive. Hmmph! ‘Ninja Lady’ indeed.”
“What do you want?” Jennie asked, nervously. Despite her husband’s wishes, she’d emerged from the bedroom when she heard the strange woman’s voice.
“I was hoping Eddie here would lead me to his bosses. I’ve got a few questions for them. Such as: where are the girls?”
“What about the girls?” Ken asked.
“Well, the group I rescued consisted of boys only. Seems they were being taken to some sort of boot camp. We’ll need to rescue them eventually, but they’re not the priority. The girls were taken to be sex slaves. They need to be rescued first.” The anger built in the old woman’s face and voice as she continued. “You don’t want to know what I’m planning to do to the bastards behind that little plan!”
“I want to help,” said a new voice. Everyone turned to see Lorraine emerge from the bedroom.
“What are you doing?” Ken demanded, frustrated that both women were ignoring his advice. “I told you to stay out of sight.”
“I’m supposed to be Mayor, am I not? It’s about time I acted like it.”
“You want to help?” Mrs Smith interjected. “Well, you can start by kicking those damned Monks out of town.”
“That would be nice,” the Mayor admitted. “But I’m open to suggestions how to do that. Half of the police force has already joined the Monks. Even if I could rally the others, all we have to defend ourselves is Neural Jammers. Stunning someone is handy, but it only works close-up, and it’s useless against a crowd. Hell, this isn’t a crowd, it’s an army! Mrs. Smith, or whatever your name is, this isn’t the middle ages. We’re supposed to be civilized! Where the hell are we going to get weapons to use against these bastards?”
“What about the National Guard?” Smith asked her.
“Ha! What planet are you from? There hasn’t been a National Guard around here since the Feds cleaned out the Armory during the War. Face it: there’s nothing we can do. We’re helpless!”
Mrs. Smith sifted through the possibilities. What they needed were guns, legal or illegal.
“Hmmm,” she thought to herself, “Illegal …” And her mind went back to the last days of the War, and a man who knew her by another name.
To: Nancy Madison
From: Roland DeMarco
Date: March 21, 2207
Subject: RE: A Small Request
So good to hear from you after all these years, although frankly I’m surprised. Sources tell me you went missing back in 2193 under peculiar circumstances and were presumed dead. I’m glad to see that presumption incorrect.
As for your request, I’ve spent the better part of the last week mulling it over. You do realize what would happen should that information fall into the hands of the authorities? My entire organization would find itself in prison. Still, with everything that’s been happening lately with the War — and I have access to a lot more information than the general public — I don’t suppose it matters one way or the other. In all likelihood, we’ll all be dead before too long, which makes the prospect of prison sound positively enviable. But your suggestion that my small enterprise might help humanity through the coming darkness is very tempting. Even a disreputable old man such as myself wishes to leave behind a legacy other than crime and corruption. Plus, I feel I owe you. A couple of handguns and a bag of ammo clips is insufficient recompense for saving my life, and I remain forever grateful.
Attached, therefore, is a list of names and addresses for all management personnel along the East Coast, along with a few contacts I’ve made in Canada. The file’s encryption is keyed to your bio-metrics. Please use this information wisely. And if we both somehow survive the coming apocalypse, I’d like to get together for a few drinks. You are indeed a very remarkable woman. Stay safe.
Rochester, New York
September 9, 2217
“I’ve got an idea,” Mrs. Smith said. “A connection to the DeMarco crime family.”
“DeMarco?” Jennifer asked. “Wasn’t he a big real estate tycoon back in the day?”
“Yep, the very same. He always kept a low profile, so few were aware of his … other … activities. Anyway, he’s an old friend.”
“‘Friend’? Ken asked suspiciously. “A man like that?”
“Yeah, don’t ask. Anyway, if this lead he gave me pans out, I might be able to get you some guns. Maybe bodies, too. It depends on how persuasive I can be. But first things first: the girls.” Smith turned to face Eddie. “You need to find them for me, Eddie,” she told him.
“What, me? No, I can’t. Get someone else.”
“There is no one else, Eddie. And I’m not giving you a choice. Might I remind you that you came here for help, not the Monks. You must have a very good reason for that, Eddie. You wouldn’t want the … ah … wrong people to find you, am I right?”
“I can’t,” but the protest was weaker now, barely a whisper. He knew his options were limited. He was silent for a few moments before nodding reluctantly.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked Smith.
“Find out where they took the girls. Do whatever it takes. When you’re done, hide somewhere. Doesn’t matter where. I’ll find you and we’ll talk.” Smith then turned to the other three. “You people need to leave. Sooner or later, they’ll figure out that Eddie didn’t die with the other Monks, and they’ll come here looking for him. You need to be gone before that happens.”
“But where can we go that’s safe?” Ken asked.
“Don’t know,” Smith replied. “Don’t care, either. Here,” she turned to the Mayor, “Pull your hair away from your left ear…” Smith reached through her illusory body and into the drone’s hidden compartment. “Dammit, I only have a couple of these left.” There was nothing visible on the fingertip she held out to the Mayor, but when she pressed it against the woman’s skull, she left something underneath the skin.
“What’re you doing?” Lorraine asked, frowning.
“Microscopic tracking device,” Smith explained. “A rare commodity nowadays. Now, stay hidden and stay safe and I’ll find you.” She turned back to the frightened Monk. “Come on, Eddie, time for you to go. Don’t fail me. Remember, I can find you wherever you hide. Don’t make me come after you.” She turned to the Mayor. “I’ll be in touch.”
Once Eddie and the old woman were gone, Ken leaned against the front door and stared at his wife.
“What,” he asked, “have we gotten ourselves into?”
To be continued …