Cross Paths: Chapter 20

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.

Public Safety Complex
Rochester, New York
September 10, 2217

Eddie Warren was a coward, pure and simple. But he wasn’t stupid. He knew his lack of intestinal fortitude put him at a disadvantage in life, but there was little he could do about it. Time and again when faced with a potentially life-changing decision, he chose the safest course rather than take a risk. Oftentimes, Eddie painted himself into a corner doing so.
Like now, for example.
Standing with his back against the glass-and-steel facade of a deserted building, Eddie struggled to think of a way out of the bind he was in. But he’d been standing there for hours already without coming up with an answer. It was after midnight, perhaps too late to do anything at all.
“I can’t do this,” he thought to himself. “I say or do something wrong and get caught. Then they’ll interrogate me and kill me.”
Yesterday afternoon, he was part of a squad of monks taking a group of young boys to a makeshift military boot-camp in one of the city’s old high schools. When that squad was attacked by some sort of “Ninja Lady”, Eddie ran for his life rather than help defend his “Brothers”.
“I could make something up,” he told himself, but knew the effort would be wasted. He wasn’t clever enough to come up with a good excuse for surviving the massacre, and would end up caving under pressure.
“They’ll kill me!” he decided.
So what was left? Leave town? He knew nothing about suviving in the wilderness. He’d heard stories of wild animals, mutated in horrible fashion so that even experienced hunters hesitated to walk the forest alone.
“What chance would I have?” he wondered.
And anyway, that Ninja Lady said she’d track him down wherever he went. He saw her plant some sort of tracking device on the Mayor. She probably did the same thing to him.
Eddie squeezed his eyes shut and prayed to a God he didn’t believe in for guidance.
Summoning what little courage he had left, he slid around the curved side of the building until he could see his target: the former Public Safety Complex (or PubSeC). Straight ahead was the Municipal Services building (or MuniServ), a large pillbox shaped structure housing the main Government Offices reception lobby. Somewhere deep beneath that structure was police headquarters, along with other government offices. To the left, on the other side of a broad green lawn, was the Youth Services building (or YouServ), visually identical to the MuniServ. Late twenty-second-century urban architecture tended towards the same boring cookie-cutter design of small pillbox-shaped structures of glass and steel. In an age where any point on the face of the Earth could be reached via Mach-speed underground transportation, little thought was given to surface asthetics. Until the War came and devastated the city’s infrastructure, few people even bothered to stroll the plascrete walkways or admire the fine manicured lawns.
Now, of course, the lawns were overgrown and unkempt. Only the genetic modifications made to the grass prevented a wilderness from growing here. As it was, the lawns were unsightly, but didn’t quite have that look of total abandonment. This late at night, the MuniServ would be deserted, with only a skeleton staff on duty. Eddie knew from experience that his fellow Monks, far from comprising a genuine Army, liked to spend their downtime elsewhere.
He figured that if he went inside now, at this hour of the night, there wouldn’t be many there to stop and question him, but by the same token, there’d be few for him to question. He’d be better off waiting until morning — but then, he’d risk being stopped.
Eddie’s mouth was dry, and his heart pounded a heavy rhythm.
“I can’t do this,” he whispered to himself. “I can’t, I can’t! They’ll kill me.”
But if he didn’t, then the Ninja Lady would kill him instead, so what choice did he have?
Then movement caught his eye. Four Monks were dragging something through the front doors of the MuniServ and into the overgrown lawn. He was too far away to get a good look, even with the bright light around the building, but what he did see told him enough: a tiny figure, wearing a long-sleeved yellow shirt with grey slacks and a matching vest. Some sort of badge or logo was on the vest’s left breast. Eddie recognized the outfit immediately after years of working as a school janitor: it was the school uniform at Granger Middle School. As the Monks dragged the girl into the high grass, Eddie knew where they were holding the girls.
Quietly, he slid around to the other side of the building, and disappeared into the darkness.

Warehouse District
Rochester, New York
September 10, 2217

Mrs. Smith stood in front of the curved glass face of the deserted office building, staring at her reflection in the early morning light. The building, hardly large enough to contain a small reception desk and a single elevator, had been abandoned even before the War decimated the city. Only the use of modern construction materials kept it from falling apart.
Smith stared into the eyes of the ninety-year-old woman reflected there, and considered her options. The last time real-estate mogul (and crime boss) Roland DeMarco met her was back in 2193, when she was just thirty years old. That was, if you ignored all the time-traveling she’d done since then, twenty-four years ago. If DeMarco’s people were efficient — and there was no reason to suppose otherwise — they’d expect her to be in her mid-fifties now.
“No problem,” she whispered to herself, but the strain in her voice indicated otherwise.
Smith’s current “body” was actually a high-tech simulation created by the black baseball-sized drone she was using. That simulation was composed of two things: a precision mesh of forcefield energies supplying substance and solidity, overlayed by a holographic projection supplying color and texture. The resulting simulation was quite good as long as you didn’t look too close.
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and searched for an appropriate memory she could use to reprogram the drone.
She found that memory, and it was as painful as she feared.
It was a few weeks before her husband’s death. She was standing in front of a full-length bedroom mirror in their Bethesda, Maryland home. Dressed in bra and panties, she was staring more at Robert’s reflection than her own. He was lying in bed behind her with his hands behind his head, grinning from ear to ear.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she told him, frowning.
“Can’t help it,” Robert replied. “You look delicious.”
“Oh, stop it, I’m no such thing,” she told him, sternly. But her lips were twitching in the beginnings of a smile. It didn’t seem to matter how old she got, her man liked the way she looked. Staring at her own reflection, she was forced to admit that she kept herself in reasonable shape for a woman in her mid-fifties. But she was certainly no centerfold! Not that she’d ever been. Her entire life, she’d always been a little overweight, and age hadn’t helped in that regard.
She shook her head, bringing her mind back to the present. If a drone could cry, tears would be falling down her cheeks right now. They say “time heals old wounds”, but it hadn’t done anything of the sort for her.
“Robert, I miss you,” her reflection whispered softly. She squeezed her eyes shut to calm her raging emotions. “Time to get to work,” she said at length. Opening her eyes, she stared at the woman in the glass and began reprogramming the simulation to match the woman in her memory. It took several tries to get it right as her concentration kept slipping. Finally, the job was done, and a familiar stranger stared back at her from the glass. Her hand came up almost of its own accord to brush her hair: now grey instead of white. There were traces of blonde to be seen among the grey. The hand froze in mid-air. That face, and that woman, brought with it a flood of memories, none of them relevant to the task at hand. Some were pleasant, most were not. Her husband’s death in particular played over and over in her head.
“I love you!” Robert told her as the oversized axe came down on his neck …
“I love you.” The axe came down …
“…love…”
“Let’s get this show on the road,” she told herself quite sternly, turning away from the window. She struggled to bring the mental replay to a halt, and after a minute or two, succeeded. Grimly, she began walking towards the address given her by DeMarco.

In the twenty-second century, all transportation was done underground, using cargo-specific versions of the local Taxi capsules and the inter-city Tubeway. With no trucks or trains to contend with, warehouses had evolved from huge boxy buildings into parks and recreation areas. Shipping, receiving, and storage was all hidden underground. Rochester’s warehouses had followed the trend, but in the aftermath of the War, the well-manicured parks gracing the surface had deteriorated into abandoned tangles of weeds and shrubbery. Genetically-altered plant life came with a premium price-tag, after all, too high a price for most businesses to afford. So the once-pleasant parks turned into jungles.
Mrs. Smith, now wearing the appearance of a middle-aged woman, was tempted to bypass the weeds and greenery by reverting the drone to its base appearance. But she couldn’t chance the possibility that someone was watching.
Better to be safe, and all that.
As with most warehouses, this one had a human-accessible entryway set at the four compass points. Thanks to the drone’s built-in sensors, Smith was able to identify the nearest three-meter-high entrance hidden amid the greenery. Those same sensors also identified the battery of monitor devices set above and around the front door. Smith stood up straight, and looked right into the camera lense.
“My name is Nancy Madison,” she announced, using a name she hadn’t gone by for decades (centuries if you counted time travel). “I’m here to see Carmen Jenkins. Tell her Roland Demarco sent me. The password may be a little out of date, but in 2207 it was ‘blueberry pie’.” There was no way to tell, of course, whether anyone would remember what the password had been ten years ago, but given the circumstances, she doubted anyone would care. The wait seemed interminable, but eventually she could hear faint footsteps on metal stairs coming from the other side of the door.
The door made a snap-click sound and opened to reveal a tall man with broad, brawny shoulders. In another life, he might have been a bouncer in a night club.
“Bet I’m not far off,” Smith thought to herself. “No doubt that’s his function here.” The man motioned for Smith to raise her arms, and he performed a quick but thorough pat-down, looking for weapons. Fortunately, her disguise held up to the scrutiny and, satisfied, he motioned for her to precede him through the doorway and down the metal stairs.
Carmen Jenkins was officially the Office Manager for the Crossways Transportation and Distribution Company, which ostensibly existed to transport a wide variety of bulk cargo around the country. The irony was that, while it had been originally founded as a front for DeMarco’s criminal activities, it ended up being a very profitable business in its own right — so much so that even before the War it was threatening to overshadow the rest of the operation. DeMarco was quite familiar with this phenomenon, as his own Real Estate business was similarly profitable.
Smith was led to a makeshift office on the upper floor of the warehouse.
“I’m surprised Roland gave you access,” Jenkins remarked as she took her seat behind the cheap metal desk.
“I saved his life,” Smith explained. “He was very grateful.”
“I’m sure,” Jenkins told her with a nod. “He was old fashioned that way. Believed in repaying debts.”
“‘Was’?” Smith asked, leaning forward in the simple metal chair she’d been offered. “He’s dead, then?”
“Most likely. I believe he’d be in his seventies today. But after the War, we lost the communications net. We haven’t heard from him, or anyone else in Philly, since. And with these damned Monks running around, it’s getting harder and harder to keep the tech we do have running. Do you know, we caught a bunch of them blowing up one of the solar collection farms? How do they expect people to keep the lights going? Not to mention the sump pumps. Let me tell you, it’s difficult as hell getting around the city when the cold weather hits. No power for the Taxis, and certainly not enough to heat the sidewalks. Snow here’s a bitch, you know.”
“They used to say: the cheapest way to solve a problem is to throw energy at it.”
“Well those days are long gone,” Jenkins shot back. “There’s been talk in City Hall about rebuilding one of the old fusion plants, but I think that’s a pipe dream. We’ve lost the experts who understood them. Now I’m thinking it’s a damned good thing the project was abandoned. Imagine what the Monks would do to a working fusion reactor? It’d be New York all over again!” Back in 2182, a terrorist by the name of Cassandra managed to detonate a bomb that leveled most of the city.
“We have to stop them,” Smith declared. “It’s as simple as that.”
“Who’s ‘we’? Is that why you’re here, Ms. Madison? To recruit us into some … some suicidal struggle against these … these Monochrome Monks?” She spat the name like an insult of the worst caliber. “What in heaven’s name would convince me to do that?”
“Carmen,” Smith said in a quiet, conversational tone of voice, “They attacked the schools yesterday, killed the teachers and kidnapped the children. The boys have been sent to one of the high schools for re-education and some sort of military training. The girls …”
“I know about the attacks,” Jenkins interrupted. “We’ve been trying to locate where they’ve taken the kids — so far, no luck. But it’s early yet.” Something else was weighing on the woman’s mind, but Smith couldn’t quite tell what it was.
“I’m searching as well,” Smith admitted. “I’ve got a man on the inside helping me.”
“One of the Monks? You know you can’t trust him, right?”
“Oh, I know. I know. But this fellow’s scared of his own shadow. I simply eliminated his other … options. He either helps me, or I kill him … slowly … very slowly.”
Jenkins responded to this with a predator’s toothy grin. “You surprise me, Ms. Madison,” she told her guest. “You hardly seem the type.”
“Oh, trust me,” Smith replied, laughing. “Since the War, I’ve gotten a lot of experience.”
“I’m sure.” Now Jenkins’ face changed, growing intense and focused.
“Here it comes,” Smith thought to herself.
“You mentioned the girls,” Jenkins said. “Do you have any idea what the Monks intend to do with them? I … I have two daughters, one nine the other thirteen. They’re both missing.”
“I’m sorry,” Smith said, her own expression growing serious and apologetic. “I’m very sorry.”
“Why? What are they going to do to my girls?”
“First, they’ll break them. Completely, until they’ll do whatever they’re told, without question or complaint. Then they’ll start the training.”
“Training? Why? For what?”
“Come on, Carmen. I think you already know the answer to that: sex slaves.”
A succession of emotions ran across the woman’s face, from shock to fear to panic and finally white-hot anger.
“Tell me what you need,” Jenkins said once she found her voice again. “My people are at your disposal.”

To be continued …

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