Cross Paths: Chapter 26

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 18, 2217

“I’ll never get the blood stains out of this rug,” Mayor Lorraine McGovern complained, wrinkling her nose at the dried stains. “It needs to be replaced, but good luck finding a new one — not to mention a decent installer.”
Mrs. Smith exchanged a disgusted look with her companion, Chases Comets. The alien was still wearing the illusion of both humanity and his Monk costume. When Smith offered to program a new outfit for him, the alien declined, explaining that a Monk’s robes were more practical.
She didn’t argue with him. Instead, she directed her frustration at the Mayor.
“After all that’s happened in this town,” the old woman said, sounding like a disapproving schoolmarm, “and that’s what you’re concerned about? You need to get your priorities straight, lady. There are still Monks out there. They may have ditched their grey robes, but they haven’t given up their goal of destroying you!”
“I’m not a child, Mrs. Smith. I know full well what needs to be done.”
“Really? Because you certainly sound like a child, worrying about creature comforts and non-essentials when your life’s in danger. Well, yours and everyone else’s. Next time everything hits the fan, I won’t be around to save your sorry ass.”
“This office is a symbol of government,” the Mayor shot back. “The last thing we need is for that symbol to appear stained or blemished. As a soldier, you may know military tactics, Mrs. Smith, but you know nothing about politics.”
“Thank God for little favors,” Smith murmured to herself. As far as the Mayor and her staff were concerned, Smith was a Soldier left over from the old days when warriors were equipped with biological and technological body modifications. It was a simpler explanation than the truth, after all.
“Before I …” Smith glanced sideways at Chases Comets. “… I mean … before we leave, I wanted to urge you to make peace with Carmen and her people.” In pre-apocalypse Rochester, Carmen Jenkins had been the local Mob Boss.
“I don’t see how I can,” was the Mayor’s response. “She’s a career criminal, after all.”
“The way I see it,” Smith did her best to hold her temper in check, “that so-called ‘career criminal’ just saved your sorry ass by defeating those Monks. You know damned well you couldn’t have done it alone. I told you before: the time for being civilized is long past. If you two don’t join forces, those Monks will be back with a vengeance. What’s that old phrase? ‘Divided we fall’? Think about it. I’d hate to find my time here was wasted. Now if you’ll excuse me …”
“Before you go, ” the Mayor approached the old woman with her right hand out. In it was a crystal cylinder about the size of her little finger. “I wanted to give you this ReadDoc crystal. I copied everything I had on the Monks’ Letter of Recommendation. Thought it might come in handy. You were right, by the way: the letter was dated shortly before their arrival here. About three weeks.”
“Not enough time to get here by land or boat,” Smith nodded, taking the storage device from the Mayor. “Not from Kansas City, anyway.”
“Then the Tubeway system is operational.”
“Looks like it,” Smith agreed. “Thanks for this. And I promise: if there’s any way in heaven or hell to stop those bastards, I’ll get the job done.”
“You understand that’s impossible,” the Mayor pointed out. “Not to mention suicidal. If the aliens are behind the Monks like you say, what makes you think you can defeat them when Earth’s military couldn’t?”
“The only real failure is not trying. If I die in the process … well, so be it. And who knows — I might surprise you.”
The Mayor took a step closer and held out her right hand. They shook.
“Good luck, Nancy,” the Mayor whispered, using the name she’d overheard Carmen use. But the old woman scowled and let go McGovern’s hand like it was suddenly red-hot.
“Don’t call me that!” she snapped. The Mayor recoiled and took a few steps backwards. “Nancy Madison died with her parents a long, long time ago,” Mrs. Smith explained. “I’m someone else now.”
“I’m sorry,” McGovern was quick to apologize. “I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories.”
Smith waved off the offense. She turned to her disguised partner.
“We’d better get going, Chase,” she told him. “It’s a long walk to that Tubeway hatch.”
“God be with you, Mrs. Smith,” the Mayor said.
“Hope not,” Smith growled back. “That’s how I got into this mess in the first place: someone playing God.”
“I … don’t understand,” the Mayor replied, frowning.
“That’s good. You’re better off.”
And with that, Smith and her alien companion turned and left the office.
“You don’t have to come along, you know,” Smith told Chases Comets once the door closed behind them. There was a hesitation in her manner and a touch of guilt in her voice. Clearly, she was hiding something.
“I can’t very well remain here,” Chases Comets told her. “Sooner or later, someone will see through my disguise and I’ll end up on one of those crosses in front of City Hall. No, as strange as it might sound, I’m probably safer with you.”
Smith’s eyes squeezed shut and she bit her lower lip.
“You sure?” she asked him in a low voice. Again, there was the hint of guilt. The woman opened her eyes and stared intently at the alien, as if she could peer into his soul by sheer force of will. “Because the Mayor was right. This mission of mine may well be suicidal.”
“I just have one question: do you need me? Or will I be a burden?”
“I need your help, Chase. In fact, after what I’ve seen here in Rochester, I’m afraid … I’m afraid I need you more than ever.”
“Good,” Chases Comets replied, nodding. “Then it’s settled.”
But for a long moment, Mrs. Smith just stood there, looking down at her hands, which were clasped in a white-knuckled grip. Then she looked up at him and smiled. It was a sad smile, with a touch of something the alien wasn’t able to fathom. Then she reached up and gently caressed him on the cheek. Chases Comets felt a slight electric sensation pass between them, and assumed it was due to the interaction of forcefield energies.
He was only half right.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“If that maintenance tunnel’s open, and we can get the Tubeway running, what then? Where are we going?”
“Kansas City. That’s where they moved the Federal Government, you know. I have a few … pointed … questions for a certain U.S. Senator.”
“And if he refuses to answer?”
At that, Mrs Smith’s face lit up and her lips stretched into the fierce grin of a wolf. “Oh, I hope so,” Smith replied with the first hint of real happiness he’d ever witnessed from her. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure!”

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