Cross Paths: Chapter 25

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.

City Hall
Rochester, New York
September 13, 2217

“My name,” Chases Comets began, “is …”
“I know who you are,” the Lord stated in a condescending voice. The source of that voice might be mechanical, but it was a perfect imitation of human annoyance. “Chases Comets, a mediocre astronomer. When you started asking too many questions about our war with the Grounders, you were exiled here.” The Lord then tilted his head to one side. With the mask in place, no emotion was on display — not that emotion would have been on display in any case, given his inhuman features. “Frankly, I’m surprised you’re still alive. Usually, those lacking proper medical treatment don’t live very long. I applaud your sturdy constitution.”
“I’m not ready to die,” Chases Comets replied, determined to show his worth to Mrs. Smith. She’d left him behind for the last time! “Not yet.”
The Lord didn’t react to that, just continued staring at the other alien. Smith, meantime, watching helplessly via the disabled drone, didn’t know if this man was a clueless bureaucrat, or simply a good actor. He had to be aware of the bloody mayhem outside City Hall, but if he were, it didn’t show in his words or his attitude. Maybe he believed his own PR about being the right hand of God. It was always a bad idea to underestimate the enemy, but she was sorely tempted to write the fellow off as an idiot.
“So,” the Lord continued, “why are you here? Is this Grounder keeping you as a pet?” The alien kicked the metal sphere with his lower right hand, but the drone was heavy and didn’t roll far.
“We came to offer a proposal,” Chases Comets explained, ignoring the jibe.
“A proposal? You? What makes you think anyone would listen? You’re an exile, a disgrace to your family and your creche. Tell me, Exile, what is so important? What is this proposal of yours?” There was a momentary pause, and then the Lord broadcast a single “impatiently waiting” icon on the secondary communications channel. It was the first time since he’d switched on the room’s defenses that the Lord spoke to Chases Comets like one of his own people.
The implied insult wasn’t lost on Chases Comets.
“The only reason these people invented time travel was to compensate for the time dilation experienced during long space voyages. It’s the only way they know to — effectively — travel faster-than-light. If we were to give them an alternative, they’d agree to give up time travel completely!”
“And we just take them at their word, is that it? Accept that a race so irrational they tamper with causality on a regular basis will give it all up? Honestly?
“They’re not irrational,” Chases Comets insisted. “They fear time-travel just as much as we do. Given a reasonable alternative, they’ll abandon it in an instant. Plus, consider this: their interstellar fleet’s been destroyed. Now when they rebuild, it will be with something safer.”
“Typical Grounder way of thinking,” the Lord said, sending a mocking icon on the side-channel. “You’re already rebuilding their war fleet for them.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh, but it is. I’m pleased to see your punishment is well-deserved. You’ve become one of them, taking their side against your own people.” The Lord then broadcast a very specific icon for disgust — one normally reserved for excrement and rotting flesh.
That last insult hit Chases Comets particularly hard. The implication of the icon was something that should have been recycled a long time ago, but instead was left on a public walkway.
“You don’t understand,” Chases Comets said, broadcasting his own icon — one for pleading/begging. His eyes dropped to the floor, and focused irrelevantly on the gun Mrs. Smith had given him. When the room’s defenses neutralized his disguise, the pistol had dropped to the floor, nearly striking his lower right hand in the process.
“Violence is unnecessary,” he said, to himself as well as the Lord.
“The violence is theirs,” the Lord returned. “If they’re too barbaric to remain civilized, that’s not our problem. You never understood the necessity of this plan, Chases Comets. You still don’t. Left to their own devices, these precious Grounders of yours would surely wipe us out completely. We can’t take the chance. As an alternative to wiping them out, this is the best, most humane solution.”
“It’s not right. What you’re doing to them, it isn’t right.”
“We’ve no choice. Any other action is tantamount to suicide.
“Please, I beg you to reconsider.”
“You’re a fool, Chases Comets. The answer is ‘no’!”
“Don’t I get a say?” a new radio voice appeared on the alien communications channel. The Lord was surprised when he traced the signal to the seemingly-inert metal ball at his feet.
“I thought I disabled your little toy,” he told the drone.
“Only the display — the forcefields and holographic projectors. The radio equipment is quite functional, I assure you.”
“Well, speak quickly. This conversation has already wasted too much of my time.”
“I offer a trade.”
“What sort of trade?”
“In return for peace between our two peoples, and our pledge not to use time travel ever again, I’ll give you time travel.”
“Mrs. Smith, no!” Chases Comets objected, sending a stream of icons on the side channel — so many they jumbled together unintelligibly. Smith was unfazed.
“I’ve give you all the theory, all the equations,” she said, “everything you need to build your own equipment.”
“An interesting offer, but what would we want with such an abomination?”
“You could use it to protect your military bases from any history change, then retaliate against Earth if we violate the treaty.”
“Smith, you can’t!” Chases Comets pleaded, using the same pleading/begging icon he’d used earlier.
“At the close of the war,” the Lord said, “your side destroyed all equipment and documentation relating to time-travel. It’s clear they didn’t want us to have either one.”
“I have it. I can give it all to you.”
“How is it you have it?”
“I invented it.” Smith said after an awkward pause. She wasn’t happy about the revelation.
“That’s impossible,” the Lord told her. “According to the records, time travel was invented hundreds of your years ago by someone named … Franklin, I believe.”
“Yeah. Nancy Carla … Franklin. At your service.”
“That one called you ‘Mrs. Smith’.”
“An alias. I’ve had many in my long life.”
“And how do I know I can trust you?”
“I’ll turn myself over to you — my actual flesh-and-blood body — for you to do with as you please. With the original documentation destroyed by the military, the secret dies with me.”
“Smith, don’t do this!” Chases Comets was getting desperate. After everything the Monks and their alien overlords had done here on Earth, it was clear his people couldn’t be trusted. For all their protestation as to the dangers of time travel, they’d only use it for ill. He was certain of it.
But what could he do?
“That still doesn’t explain how time travel was invented so long ago,” the Lord was saying. “Are you now claiming to be immortal?”
Smith made a rude sound.
“Time travel, remember? I took a trip back to 1955 and stayed a while. Nothing could be simpler. Now, how about it? Will you stop this senseless terror campaign of yours and let us get on with our lives? Please.”
“I don’t know. You still haven’t given me any reason to trust you.”
“Humanity could have wiped you all out,” Smith told him, impatiently. “We could have gone back in time and messed with your history, but we didn’t. We knew that was wrong, and would have … consequences. So we didn’t do it. You destroyed our ships and bombed our cities, and we still didn’t do it! We’re not your enemy. Please, let’s settle this like civilized beings.”
“I don’t have any authority to make deals or treaties,” the Lord said thoughtfully. “Nor do you, I suspect. Still, if you’re agreeable, I can take you to meet with those who do have such authority.”
“What about my people?” Smith asked. “You’re right that I don’t have any diplomatic authority. Getting your people to agree is only half the answer. I still need to convince mine. I might need your help with that.”
That won’t be a problem.”
“No!” Chases Comets declared. “I won’t allow it!” With that, he fell backwards onto his two upper arms. With his weight now off his lower limbs, he picked up the pistol with his lower right hand and fired at the Lord.
The whine-bang sound of the pistol was deafening. In contrast, the “whoomp” of the tiny needle blowing a hole in the Lord’s chest was almost anticlimactic. Blood showered the room while the force of the explosion catapulted the alien leader backwards, over the Mayor’s big desk. The alien’s body must have struck the device hidden under the desk, because suddenly both Smith and Chases Comets found themselves wearing their human disguises again.
“Chase,” Smith shouted, taking her own turn at exploding. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Stopping you from making a big mistake,” he replied, using the voice box once more. “Time-travel would have destroyed my people. I couldn’t allow you to do that.”
“This was our best chance for stopping the fighting. I had the attention of a senior official, and he was going to present my offer to his chain of command! You’ve ruined everything!
“You don’t know my people,” Chases Comets told her. “They would have agreed to the offer, gone through with all the formalities, but once you’d handed over your secrets, they would’ve have come right back here and continued The Plan.”
“In heaven’s name, why?
“Because they don’t trust Grounders. It’s as simple as that. Even if what you gave them worked, they’d already made their decision. They never change their minds or second-guess themselves. They were going to eliminate the threat in the most efficient, most ethical way possible.”
“But what happened here to the children, the teachers …”
“As far as they’re concerned, you did it to yourselves. Morally, they weren’t to blame. Their hands are clean.”
“Right,” Smith said, frowning. “Clean.” Smith walked around the desk and looked down at the dead body. “Moving him’ll be tricky,” she muttered to herself, almost absentmindedly. “There’s blood all over the place.” Smith looked up at her companion. “Slippery work.”
“I’ll help,” Chases Comets offered. That set the woman off again.
“You helped enough for one day,” Smith shot back, angrily. “Now what the hell are we going to do? This was a peaceful solution, dammit! No violence, no killing.”
“You’ll think of something,” he told her, trying to sound reassuring. But his mastery of the new voice box wasn’t quite up to the task.
“I did think of something!” she shouted back at him. “You’re the one who screwed it up.”
“I’m sorry,” Chases Comets replied. “But they can’t be trusted.”
“Why, because they sent you to die a slow and miserable death at the bottom of a gravity well? That’s not good enough, Chase. Your people took away my family, my friends, my whole damned life — and yet I was willing to make a deal with the bastards. I was willing to sacrifice my own idea of justice to save my people. That you weren’t willing to help is … is …” Smith ran out of words, frustrated that her friend could be so obtuse.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, not knowing what else to say. The woman was furious at him, and Chases Comets felt lost. Once she calmed down, he’d be able to explain everything. It was so simple and obvious, she’d understand and accept his actions. All he had to do was get her to listen.
“Yeah, well that does us a whole lot of good. Everything’s shot to hell, and it’s your fault.”
“Now what?” he asked, knowing that another apology would do no good.
“I don’t know, Chase. Shut up and let me think!”

To be continued …

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