Cross Paths: Chapter 23

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.

Benevolence Military Academy
(Formerly Evelyn J. Manfred Senior High School)
Rochester, New York
September 12, 2217

Classrooms in the eastern wing of the school had been turned into barracks for the new cadets, armed monks patrolling the corridors with orders to kill any boy attempting to escape. Unlike in the girl’s camp on the other side of town, here the Monks had no Virtual Reality simulators. The boys would be trained the old fashioned way: gruelling physical workouts under strict discipline and harsh conditions. It was a time-tested methodology that had worked for armies since the dawn of man.
But the men in this particular training camp weren’t very alert. Culled from the dregs of society, inspired by selfishness rather than faith or patriotism, they weren’t exactly a role model for the children.
It was very easy, therefore, for Harry “The Hammer” Thompson to infiltrate that part of the school unobserved.
Thompson drew an odd-looking pistol from his Monk’s robes, and began shooting the patrolling guards. The weapon made barely a sound as it spat poison needles into each target. The technology was similar to the one used in railgun pistols, only far less powerful with significantly shorter range. One by one, the bored clueless guards dropped dead.
He was ahead of schedule. Still plenty of time to release the kids and get them to safety before the actual attack began!
Physical Lockup
Women’s Purification Facility
(Formerly Police Headquarters)
Rochester, New York
September 12, 2217

“Pull the plug,” Mrs. Smith ordered the Monk.
The man brought up the electronic tablet already in his right hand, but stopped when he felt the old woman’s sword press harder against his throat.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she warned him. “Just pull the plug.”
“B … but if I do that, they’ll …”
“They’ll lose all memory of their time in Virtual,” Smith said with one of her predatory grins. “All your hard work brainwashing those poor girls will be wasted, won’t it? Cry me a river, you sick bastard. Like I said: consider yourself lucky. You get to live. If … you do as your told. Pull the plug, little man. Do it now!” A small trickle of blood ran down his neck, and he gulped nervously.
“Alright,” he agreed, nodding. “But I’ll have to do that literally. The computer won’t let me disconnect them without updating their memories. That’ll take time. Trust me, those plugs are designed to remain in place.”
“Time I don’t have,” Smith told him. “Not if I’ve gotta yank each one out of the wall. There’re a lot of girls in this hell-hole of yours! So …looks like we do this the hard way.”
The old woman walked over to the nearest cot and squatted next to it, smiling in satisfaction as she grabbed the thick data cable snaking out from underneath the girl. All part of the plan, of course. She knew what she’d have to do going into this.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the Monk asked, a little braver now that his throat wasn’t being directly menaced.
“We used to call this ‘data mining’,” Smith replied, looking up. “Or simply ‘mining’. Nowadays, I don’t know what you’d call it. A long time ago, this fellow referred to it as ‘hacking’, which may be more appropriate, given all the swordplay around here.”
She didn’t need to actually hold the cable, of course, nor close her eyes and feign intense concentration like she did now. it was all stage-craft. Not long ago, one of the locals had misinterpreted the abilities given her by the drone. She needed to duplicate that reaction now with her current audience.
“Dear God,” the Monk whispered reverently, a touch of fear coloring his voice. “You’re a … a soldier! But … that’s impossible! They’re all dead. How …?”
“Decided to come out of retirement,” she said, a peaceful smile on her lips. Then her eyes snapped open and the smile evaporated. She looked the Monk in the eye. “Just for you, little man — you and your … ‘brothers’. Now I suggest you … run! Get out of my sight before I change my mind about you.”
The look of sheer terror on the man’s face was satisfying indeed, and for once Smith was glad soldiers had such a fierce reputation. When the Monk remained standing there, rooted to the spot, Smith raised an eyebrow and treated the man to a sneer.
That did it. He turned and ran out the door as fast as his legs would carry him.
“That should give them something to think about,” she thought to herself. After all, very few of these Monks were properly trained warriors. Most were thugs, the worst society had to offer, more likely to run when faced with a real opponent. The rest, the true believers (if any existed), would rush in with nothing but God’s Grace on their side. It wouldn’t be nearly enough.
Turning her attention back to the data cable, Smith used the drone’s electronics to access the Police Department’s mainframe.

Virtual Lockup

For Sally, it felt like she’d been sitting in the corner for an eternity. Thanks to her parents, she knew nothing about Virtual or its capabilities. She didn’t know what to do, if indeed there was anything she could do. Perhaps there was a way to command the computers controlling this environment, but if so, she didn’t know what it was.
At the tender age of eleven, Sally was unprepared for the rigors of torture and brainwashing, Virtual or otherwise. Oh, she’d seen old videos, of course, but witnessing something on a flatscreen just wasn’t the same as living it “For Real”.
Then, without warning, an old woman appeared in the room, wearing a plain navy blue pantsuit and white frilly blouse. This certainly wasn’t Jasmine returning!
“Hello,” the old lady said, gracing Sally with a friendly smile. “My name’s Mrs. Smith, and I’m going to set you free. You’re safe, that’s all that matters. You’re safe and you’re going home.”
Then the old woman faded from sight, followed by the green room and its simple metal table and chair.

Reception

Even at this hour of the night, there were still people milling about the main Reception room in the lobby of the Municipal Services Building. As with any other subscraper in the country, the lobby was situated on the surface with the rest of the building buried in the many floors below. Fear drove Brother George as his feet pounded up the countless steps from those buried depths. Unfortunately, the building’s elevators hadn’t worked for years.
Brother George came bursting through the stairway doors into the Reception Area, wild-eyed and breathless.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” one of the Monks asked with a sneer. “You see a ghost or something?”
“Maybe it was a holy vision,” one of the others suggested, laughing.
“Soldier!” Brother George managed to gasp, standing in the doorway doubled-over, trying to catch his breath.
“Soldier? What soldier?” one of the other Monks demanded. “You on drugs again, brother? Still trying to see God?”
“With … the girls … freeing them.” Brother George said, desperate to get the message across.
“That’s impossible. You’re hallucinating,” another suggested.
“I’m … telling you. Got in … somehow. You know … soldiers. All that … tech … inside their … bodies.”
“You think he’s telling the truth?” the first Monk suggested, frowning. “Maybe he did see something, like he says.”
“If so,” the first Monk said to his fellows, frowning,”we could be in trouble. Stories say they’re impossible to kill.”
“Woman,” George corrected, recovering somewhat. “This one’s a woman. We have to stop her before she frees the girls.”
“Sure,” one of the Monks said. “You go right ahead. Get yourself killed. If you’re right, I’m not going anywhere near that level. Who knows how many more of them are down there?”
“Yeah,” another agreed. “I’m not getting myself killed for a bunch of cu…”
The argument was brought to an abrupt halt as the building’s windows exploded inward, showering the Monks with broken glass.

Physical Lockup

The girls were all dazed from their time in Virtual, but that was because Mrs. Smith hadn’t allowed their memories to be updated. Quickly, she herded them together and led them to the main stairwell.
“Go down as far as you can,” Smith repeated to each batch of children. “Then hide down there until I come for you. Move along, girls. We don’t have much time. The assault’s about to begin, and I don’t want you caught in the middle. Come on, step lively. We don’t have all night, you know.”

Reception

For a long moment, silence followed the sound of shattering glass and the Monks waited with drawn crossbows and a few swords for what came next. To their credit, none of them made a bee-line for the stairwell, just stood their ground and waited.
Then came a new sound: the rumble of something metal, and the crunch of rubber wheels on broken glass. A line of four-wheeled metal carts appeared suddenly out of the night, each one burdened with a cobbled-together amalgam of wires and electronics.
As one, the Monks picked a target and fired their weapons. But the wooden bolts shattered against the slightly shimmering wall thrown up in front of the carts.
“Forcefield!” one of the Monks shouted.
“Where the hell did they get forcefields?” another wanted to know. But one smart fellow recognized the carts.
“Warehouses,” the Monk shouted. “They use forcefields to transport hazardous materials.”
“Guys,” another fellow said. “I think we’re screwed.”
At that point, Monks began pouring out of the stairwell, armed and ready for battle. But it was too late. A series of “whine-bang” sounds emerged from behind the energy barriers, and Monks began falling to the floor, their bodies struck by tiny explosive needles.
“Holy crap,” someone said, “they’ve got rail guns!” Rail guns used tiny magnetic accelerators to launch deadly explosive-tipped needles. The air was quickly filled with deadly projectiles, even as the whine-bang sound of the pistols deafened the defenders.
“Wait,” one man shouted inaudibly through the din, raising his hands, “We surrender.” His head exploded as one of the needles found its mark.

Physical Lockup

The last girl started down the steps.
“What about you?” the girl asked, looking back at the old woman.
“Don’t worry about me, dear,” Mrs Smith replied. Raising both hands, she suddenly brandished a pair of iridescent swords. “I’ll be fine. Besides, I still have work to do up here.”
Smith watched the girl disappear down the steps before turning in the other direction. Once she was out of everyone’s line-of-sight, she dropped her illusion of humanity.
A black baseball-sized sphere flew up the center of the stairwell. Somewhere up above, an army of Monks were moving to defend their stronghold.

Reception

“Retreat, retreat!” the cry was shouted in the ear because the sound of gunfire was too loud for normal speech. But retreat was impossible due to push-back from those already in the stairwell.
“Not this way!” came the warning from the stairs. “We’re being attacked from the rear!”
“Why aren’t they fighting back?” was the incredulous query from one of the Monks already in the room.
“It’s too close for crossbows and swords are useless!” came the answer.
Swords, useless? How? What did it mean?
And, indeed, the men on the stairs had become so panic-stricken that they began pushing their way into the Reception area, there to be cut-down by the fierce gunfire.
Finally, the defending Monks chose the only option left to them: surrender. But this tactic met with the same fate as before. One by one, the surrendering Monks were shot in the head, their brains splattered over themselves and each other.
Finally, silence fell.
The attackers cautiously entered the room, taking time to check each robe-clad body for signs of life. Periodically, a single gunshot broke the silence as a life was stilled. This went on for some time. Then they moved into the stairwell to dispatch any stragglers there as well.
“Hold your fire,” a woman’s voice floated up the stairs from below. “I’ve got civvies with me.” Luckily (for them, anyway — Mrs Smith would not have appreciated her charges getting hurt), the men lowered their weapons, and allowed Smith and her party to pass. By now, the leaders of the attack had come to survey the fruits of their labor. Among those were the Mayor of Rochester and Carmen Jenkins, nominally the Office Manager for the Crossways Transportation and Distribution Company (but in actuality the current head of the local Mob). All turned towards the stairwell as Mrs. Smith emerged, one scared little girl by her side and a whole lot more behind her.
“Not a scratch or drop of blood on you,” Jenkins commented as Smith approached. “Although you do seem to have aged in the last few hours.” When they last met, Smith had the body of a fifty-year-old woman. Now she looked far older.
“Good makeup,” Smith said.
“You’ll have to tell me your secret sometime,” Jenkins replied, not believing a word of it.
“Sometime,” the old woman replied in a subdued voice. She tried not to think of the bloody bodies that surrounded her. True, the Monks deserved it for all the lives they’d ruined, but as often happened with her, once the crisis was over, she quickly regretted the violence and the bloodshed.
“But I’m not done yet,” she thought to herself as she felt the little girl grip her hand tighter.
“Crap!” she said aloud. “I wasn’t thinking. All this blood and gore’s going to scare the hell out of these girls. I need people to take them home.” There was agreement all around, and volunteers stepped forward to help.
“I’m taking this one home myself,” Smith said, smiling down at the girl. “I made a promise to her mother.”
“What about City Hall?” the Mayor asked. “What are we going to do about that?”
“Yeah,” Jenkins said, nodding. “We’re not done with this lot. Not by a long shot.”
“Move your men into position. If I’m not there once you’re ready, start without me. But leave this so-called ‘Lord’ to me. I want to personally send him to his Eternal Reward.”
“No promises,” Jenkins replied with a feral grin. “You’re not the only one around here who wants their kilo of flesh.”
Mrs. Smith nodded at the crime boss before turning her attention to the little girl. “Let’s get you home, sweetheart, alright?” The little girl nodded and the two headed off into the darkness.
“Wait,” the Mayor called. Smith stopped and turned around.
“Take this,” the Mayor handed the old woman her weapon, which Smith immediately recognized. “Sewing Machine Mark Three,” she identified, giving the rail gun its top-secret U.S. Army designation. “Very old, but still serviceable.”
“You’re familiar with it, then?” the Mayor asked, not surprised that a Soldier (as she thought of Smith) would know such things.
“You might say that,” Smith replied, studying the thing. She ejected the ammo clip from the handle. “Explosive tipped. Overkill for what I have in mind, but … thank you. You sure you’ll be alright without this?”
“Oh, I think so. Look, I know you can handle yourself, Mrs. Smith,” the Mayor said. “But you’ve got precious cargo there,” she nodded towards the girl. “Keep her safe.”
“Don’t worry,” Smith replied. “I will.”
Now Jenkins stepped forward, extending her right hand. “Nancy,” she addressed Smith, “It’s been a pleasure.”
“You won’t get rid of me that easily,” Smith replied with a grin. “I plan to meet you at City Hall. We’re taking back this town, and no army in Heaven or Hell’s gonna stop us.”
“Amen,” Jenkins and the Mayor replied in unison. The three women shared a laugh.

To be continued …

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