Cross Paths: Chapter 21

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 of her own.

Fairchild Condominiums
Rochester, New York
September 12, 2217

“Here’s the plan,” Mrs. Smith told the assembly. They were gathered in an abandoned apartment found by the city’s Mayor and her two friends, Ken and Jennifer Warren. Fortunately, the place still had electricity, hot and cold running water and raw materials for the kitchen’s food processor, so it was livable. The furniture had been cleared out of the living room to give the group space for the meeting. Along with the Mayor, there were several senior members of her inner circle: Police Chief, Fire Chief, and the heads of several city services, including Public Safety, Emergency Services and Constituent Services. The Mayor apologised for the small number of people she’d been able to locate on such short notice, but Smith assured her that it wouldn’t matter.
“Before you go any further,” Police Chief Roy Habbard spoke up. “I want to know who the hell you are, Mrs. Smith. You come into our city and raise a ruckus like this. I’ll have you know there are procedures. There are rules and there are regulations. Getting those children back is a matter for law enforcement, not civilians.”
“Mr. Habbard,” Mrs. Smith shot back without hesitation. “I honestly don’t give a damn about your rules and regulations. I have a job to do.”
“Chief Habbard is right,” the Mayor spoke up. “There are established …”
“Mayor,” Smith snarled, “I also don’t give a crap about your red tape and burocracy. You’re to blame for this cluster-frag — you and your city council. You people let these Monks into town and let them run wild. And now when your stupidity and short-sightedness bites you in the ass, you want to quote rules and regulations instead of doing something about it.”
“See here, that’s unfair. You can’t stop people from coming into town and starting a new life for themselves. It’s … it’s uncivilized.”
“We don’t have the luxury of civilization, Mayor. Not any more. We’re on the ropes here, all of us. If we don’t act, and act decisively, we’ll all end up on those big wooden “X”‘s down by city hall — right next to your precious city council. Half of your police force and most of your citizenry has already joined the Enemy. We don’t have time for half-measures.”
“Resorting to name calling doesn’t help,” one of the men objected.
“Name calling? You don’t like my referring to them as ‘the Enemy’? Well, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the man in charge of the Monks here in town. It’s about time all of you knew the truth about him.”
Smith took a step forward into the empty space in the center of the room, and raised her right hand. As if by magic, a three-dimensional image appeared in front of her. Just human enough to make the figure disturbing, the thing lacked hair, ears, nose and mouth. In the center of its face was a long wet slit. Each hand had five fingers, but in place of the little finger, there was a second thumb instead. Then, rather than two legs, the creature had a second pair of arms, with double-thumbed hands instead of feet.
“They like to call themselves ‘Lord’,” Smith said, and set the hologram rotating so everyone in the audience could get a good look at it. “But you might know them by another name: Altose Kamm.” There was a moment of silence as the crowd tried to remember why that name sounded familiar. The Mayor got it first.
“You mean the War,” she said, shock written on her face. “That’s what the news media called the aliens. Are you trying to tell us …?”
“The Light Years War never ended,” Smith said, nodding. “The Kamm aren’t finished with us yet. First, they destroyed our fleet with their battle cruisers, then they destroyed our cities with their orbital bombardment, and now they’re wiping out our culture and our civilization using our own beliefs against us.”
“But why?” the Fire Chief asked. “What do they hope to gain? We lost. That should be it, right?”
“Their goal,” Smith pointed out, “is to prevent any possibility of our rebuilding. You haven’t seen the Monks’ next steps. Once they consolidate their power here, they’ll destroy all the tech. Next, they’ll destroy the books, forbidding anyone to learn how to read or write or do math. They’ll use the threat of eternal damnation to enforce those rules and keep us subservient.”
“Good luck with that,” one of the city managers muttered under his breath. He had a point, Smith realized. Religion wasn’t very popular in the modern age. At least not in this part of the country it wasn’t.
“Why not simply kill us and have it done with?” the Mayor asked, still in a state of shock.
“Because they believe life is sacred,” Smith sneered. “As long as they don’t kill us themselves, as long as we die of exposure or starvation or disease, they’re fine with it. They’re afraid of us, you see; afraid of our potential, of what we can do. They see us as the ultimate threat to their way of life, and they’ll stop at nothing to eliminate that threat.”
“Without killing us,” the Mayor was skeptical.
“Not with their own hands, and not directly, no.”
The room became deathly quiet.
“They had a letter of recommendation,” the Mayor said, almost to herself. “from the government down in Kansas City.” After Washington D.C. was destroyed by orbital bombardment in the last days of the War, the government moved to Kansas City, long the nation’s center for technology. It was felt that, if the country was going to recover, it would be with the help of the tech giants headquartered there. Kansas City had emerged from the War largely unscathed. It was fortunate that the Enemy failed to destroy it as they had so many others.
The Mayor looked up with a pleading expression, turning to each member of the assembly looking for support.
“It was electronically signed by Senator Ted Christensen himself, chairman of the President’s Council on Refugees.”
“And you knew this was legit because …?” Mrs. Smith prompted.
“Well, the signature had the proper encryption and contained the official security hash. Trust me, it was genuine. There’s no mistake.”
“Hmm,” Smith said, disturbed by this new revelation. “What was the date on this … letter of recommendation? When was it issued?”
“I’m not sure. Why, is it important?”
“Ms. Mayor, let me answer your question with another one: How did the Monks get here?”
“Excuse me?”
“I mean, what method did they use to travel from Kansas City to Rochester? Without mass transit, they’d have few alternatives. By land? They’d never make it. There are no roads, remember, just wilderness between there and here — a wilderness filled with rapidly mutating dangerous animals. Not to mention the plant-life — also rapidly mutating and deadly.”
“They came by water,” the Mayor replied, confidently.
“Sure of that, are you?”
“Of course. A year and a half ago, an eyewitness saw them come ashore after their boat sank on Lake Ontario.”
“What happened?” Smith probed, cynically. “They sail their boat straight up Niagara Falls? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to land in Buffalo instead of here?”
“I’ve heard stories of Buffalo being overrun by the Monks right around then,” Jennifer spoke up. Her and her husband were trying to remain inconspicuous by standing in the corner, well away from the group.
“While that’s a possibility, Jennifer,” Smith conceded gently. “There’s a problem with that: where’d they get the boats? No one’s built or used any kind of boat or sailing ship in centuries — not even for pleasure. And navigating the Great Lakes is hardly my idea of a pleasure cruise. So what did they use, eh? Did they build their own boats? Where did the expertise to do that come from? How did they survive the storms that wrack the Lakes? What about Winter? Travel from Missouri to New York would take many months, so they couldn’t avoid crossing the Lakes in Winter. How the hell did they manage that?
“Aircraft?” the Fire Chief suggested. “Maybe one of the old police cruisers?”
“Chief Habbard,” Smith said, turning to the man,”how many people could you fit into one of those old flying police cars of yours?”
“Five comfortably,” Habbard replied, rubbing his chin. “Six if you had to, although I wouldn’t want to be in the back seat. One of the vans would be better — they can hold up to ten, but not even a big city could afford more than a handful.”
“Mayor how many Monks would you say came ashore that day off the lake?”
“About half a hundred, I think. I’d have to look it up.”
“That’s a lot of squad cars,” Smith pointed out. “You’d think someone would have spotted them speeding overhead. Not very stealthy.”
“Well, what else is there?” the Police Chief asked, frustrated. “They can’t have come by land, air, or water. What the hell’s left? Magic?”
The hologram of the alien invader vanished from the center of the room. Mrs. Smith was deep in thought as she paced back and forth. Finally, she stopped, and extended her right hand again. This time, a three-dimensional topographic map of Rochester appeared, large enough to nearly fill the room.
“My apologies,” Smith said with a smile, “this is an old map.” Smith zoomed in on the shoreline. “Where did this eyewitness say the Monks came ashore?” she asked.
The Mayor thought for a moment before pointing. “Somewhere here,” she swept her index finger back and forth. “Near the old golf course.”
Smith frowned and bit her lower lip. Suddenly, blue lines appeared beneath the landscape. Then more lines, green ones this time, indicating the city’s local Taxi tunnels. None of the green ones came close to the spot indicated by the Mayor, so Smith eliminated them from the display.
“The Tubeway tunnel’s those blue lines,” Smith commented. The Tubeway was a supersonic subway system that serviced every city on the planet, providing both passenger and cargo transportation.
“It comes close to where they came ashore,” the Fire Chief said.
“True,” Smith agreed. “But there aren’t any stations there, just the main tunnel.” She tilted her head. “You know something? Back in eighty-two, I was riding the Tubeway when that bomb went off in New York and the capsule got shunted into a maintenance side-tunnel. I wonder …”
New lines, red this time, appeared on the map, intersecting with the blue ones. One of those red lines ended just inland of where the eyewitness claimed to have seen the Monks.
“Maintenance tunnels have emergency egress to the surface. Right at the end, where the Tubeway capsules stop. There you have it: the Monks didn’t arrive by boat at all. They used the Tubeway.”
“But the Tubeway hasn’t worked since the War!” the Mayor declared.
“You’re certain of that, too, eh?” Smith returned. “I think we need to check out that maintenance station, because if these Monks have the Tubeway system working again, they’re an even bigger threat than I thought.”
“And what do you suggest we do?” the Police Chief asked.
“We stop them, of course,” Smith replied.
“How do you suggest we do that, when the military couldn’t?”
Mrs. Smith hesitated to answer at first. When the silence stretched for too long, she knew she had to say something.
“I’m working on it,” she finally said. “But that’s something we can worry about tomorrow. For right now, we’ve got something more pressing to deal with.”
“The children,” Jennifer Warren spoke up from the back of the crowd.
“Precisely,” Smith agreed.
“And how do you suggest we do even that much?” Habbard asked. “All we have are Neural Jammers — nothing that works at a distance. The Monks will cut us down before we get two meters!” Neural Jammers were peacekeeping weapons designed to render victims unconscious. For more than a century, lethal weapons were both rare and illegal.
“The twentieth century had a saying,” Smith remarked with a crooked grin. “‘When owning a gun is a crime, only criminals will own a gun.” She paused to let that sink in. It was Habbard who got it first.
“You can’t be serious!” he said, raising his voice in outrage. “You’re suggesting we recruit criminals…?”
“Might I remind you, Mr. Habbard, that these people have families just like you do. Those alien bastards have their children just like they have yours. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t care what these people have done in the past. All I know is they’re willing to help us … now! They have weapons and training and have agreed to use both in the common cause.”
One of the city managers was staring intently at the holographic map.
“Well, I think we’ve answered Mr Habbard’s question,” the man spoke up. All eyes turned towards him. “I mean, who this woman is.” He looked from face to face, surprised at all the blank expressions. “Isn’t it clear? She single-handedly wiped out a whole squad of armed Monks, and now she creates detailed holographic images with the wave of her hand. She’s a Soldier, with all those body modifications: Faster, stronger, some sort of computer in her head, and God knows what else.”
Now, soldiers in this future age generally worked undercover, engaging in assassination, sabotage, blackmail, and other unsavory activities. The end result was that, while admired for their important role in keeping world peace, they weren’t the sort you wanted living next door to you. Or, for that matter, standing in the same room.
Smith, whose husband was one of those soldiers as well as one of the most loving and caring men she’d ever known, bristled at the reaction on the faces of these so-called government officials.
“They should know better,” Smith thought to herself. Still, if the role of “soldier” got the job done, who was she to argue? It was a far easier explanation than the truth, after all.
“I won’t lie to you,” Smith lied. “I was on leave when the War ended. Survived only by the Grace of God.”
“So you believe in God?” the Mayor asked. “Despite your being a soldier?”
“Do you believe in God?” Smith shot back. “Despite your being a politician?” That seemed to end the matter right there. It always angered Smith to hear other people disrespect the military. “They don’t understand,” she thought.
“Just how long do soldiers live, anyway?” one of the city managers asked in the silence that followed Smith’s retort. He was staring at Mrs. Smith head of snow-white hair.
“We live ’till we die,” Smith replied in a weary voice. “Just like everyone else.”
Exasperated at being side-tracked, she killed the hologram and looked around the room at the others.
“Let’s leave aside for the moment who’s at fault for the Monks being here, how they arrived, or anything else. Right now, we have one goal: to rescue those children. I have men, and they have weapons, along with a surprise or two. With your help, I plan to take both prisons simultaneously. We’ll give the Monks a chance to surrender, killing any who won’t.”
“You mean to take prisoners?” the Mayor asked.
“Yes … and no,” Smith replied. “I figure we’ll send them off into exile.”
“But that’s a death sentence,” the Fire Chief said.
“Perhaps,” Smith agreed. “But its their bed. I think it’s only fair they were made to lie in it.”
“What about this … Lord?” Habbard asked. “This … alien … you claim’s in charge?”
“Oh, don’t worry about him!” Smith replied through grit teeth. “That bastard’s mine!”

To be continued …

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