Cross Examinations: Chapter 29

An Army of the Cross story

(c) 2016 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 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.

Camp Sandy Hill, Missouri
June 2, 2217
Brother Gabriel led the way into the depths of the earth, climbing down a slope of rocks and dirt that shifted dangerously under foot. Only the heavy rope in his hands prevented him from plunging helter-skelter into the darkness below.
Of course, it wasn’t so dark as far as Gabriel was concerned, given that his eyes were as modified as the rest of him. His men didn’t know that, however, which made his confidence and fearlessness that much more awe-inspiring.
It was a long way to the bottom. They’d been aiming for the utility tunnel buried close to the surface, but “close” was a relative term, and the uncertain footing made the distance seem even longer than it actually was. Gabriel soon passed the hardened rock that formed the top of the tunnel, but he still had a ways to go. The tunnel itself was huge. With the top of the tunnel breached by explosives, all the rock and dirt above it had fallen inside the passage. As he made his way slowly and carefully to the floor of the tunnel, Gabriel took note of his surroundings.
While the center of the tunnel was occupied by your standard Maglev track, the inner circumference was dominated by the tremendous pipes carrying water from the nearby Lake Jacomo to the Kansas City metropolis. Those pipes filled the tunnel with the sound of rushing water.
The debris finally thinned out, and Gabriel’s feet touched the tunnel’s hard rock floor. As he waited for the rest of his men to arrive, Gabriel looked around, his enhanced vision giving him a perfect view of the space around him. This wasn’t right. All this effort to bring drinking water to millions when there were better things to occupy one’s time. Cities — there was the problem in a nutshell. Cities and the technology that supported them pulled man away from nature — away from God’s bounty — and set him on a course that turned away from God. If the human race was to achieve Salvation, these distractions had to cease. It wouldn’t be easy to achieve, but it was necessary!
It was the only way to avoid another War — one which no one would survive.

One by one, the men let go of the rope and stood beside him. They’d exchanged their traditional grey monk’s robes for dark grey combat outfits. But unlike the gear worn by other monks in battle, these were different. Gabriel had insisted on modern combat armor, and to hell with religious orthodoxy, which demanded minimal technology from all True Believers. Gabriel was career military, after all, and knew the value of good armor. When someone objected to wearing the new outfit, he replied that they were welcome to enter combat naked if they wished.
No one took him up on the offer.
One modern amenity they didn’t object to was the hand-held flashlight secured to the underside of each crossbow. The utility tunnel was dark as pitch, and they had to see where they were going, after all.
The men lined up behind Gabriel and together they started down the huge passage.

* * *

A sound like distant thunder told Brother James that Gabriel’s team had opened the utility tunnel.
Time to move, then!
James motioned his men to follow him. As much as they hated the combat armor they were wearing now, they’d be positively incensed if they knew about the tiny radio he carried. The Lords didn’t approve of any technology, particularly electronics, and passed that prejudice on to their followers. James took several steps away from the others and drew the device from his pocket.
“We’re on the move,” he spoke into the device. “Stand by to re-open the breach on our return.”
“Not any time soon, I hope,” came the reply. “I still need to replace the power cell in the generator. This isn’t like loading a crossbow, you know!”
“Just be ready,” James told the monk on the other side of the silver wall.

They began marching through the woods in close formation, crossbows at the ready, keeping close watch for any sign of the enemy. They’d been marching like that for about twenty minutes when a sudden noise made them stop and raise their weapons.
“Don’t shoot!” a man’s voice called out. James signaled his men to hold their fire. “Brother James?” the voice continued.
“Brother Horace?” James replied. In response, a man appeared wearing something similar to James’ dark grey outfit, only in brown and green camouflage. He looked around at James’ group and frowned.
“This is it?” he asked. “I thought you’d bring more men.”
“That wall of yours was more trouble than expected. This was all I could manage to get through.”
“Very well,” Brother Horace nodded. “It’ll have to do, I guess. Follow me.”
A short distance farther along, James nearly stumbled over a pair of camouflaged bodies concealed beneath some bushes.
“Don’t mind them,” Horace explained offhandedly. “Major assigned them to me at the last minute. They weren’t Believers, and I had to get rid of them before they figured out what was going on.” Horace looked back and James nodded.
They were soon at the “gate”: a solid steel door set into a high stone wall, one of many entrances to the Camp.
“Stand over there out of camera range,” Horace said. “I’ll handle this.”
Horace banged on the door with his fist. “Hey, Deuce, it’s me. Open up!”
“You’re early,” came the reply, accompanied by metallic clicks, thunks and thuds. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing important,” Horace said as the door opened and “Deuce” appeared. “I found what I was looking for, that’s all.” And Horace pulled out his sidearm and shot the man in the face, killing him instantly.

* * *

The dark passage came to an abrupt stop at a huge metal door that covered the entire end of the tunnel.
“Air lock,” Gabriel commented, running his right hand over the metal surface.
“Does that mean there’s a vacuum in there?” the man beside him asked, nervously.
“Not at all,” Gabriel replied reassuringly, flashing the man a quick smile. “When the military built all this, they used standard construction techniques — in this case, the ones used to build Tubeway tunnels. That’s why the bore-size is so great, for one thing. That’s also why they used an airlock door. Plus, there’s a bonus: not only do they save money using off-the-shelf materials, but a door like this is difficult to break into.” And here he smiled again. “Difficult,” he added, “but not impossible.” He turned around and call to one of his men. “Brother Victor, the backpack if you please.”
From the man’s backpack, Gabriel pulled a large brick of a sticky yellow-brown substance. Sizing up the door carefully (his left hand raised, fingers spread), Gabriel picked a spot and pulled the waxed paper off the clay-like brick before pressing a third of the mass into the metal door. He studied the door some more before applying two more pieces to its surface. Then, from his own pocket (he wasn’t foolish enough to store detonators in the same container as the explosives, after all), he took a small cone with a sharp spike coming out of the base and inserted it into one of the clay-like masses. He did the same to the other two masses before stepping back.
“We need to get well back,” he explained. They jogged most of the way back to the entry-point before Gabriel motioned them to lie prone along the curved walls, underneath one of the huge water pipes. “Keep your heads down,” he told them. “I’ve arranged for the blast to follow the center of the passage, but there’s no guarantee it won’t carry us away.”
Raising his right hand once more, he transmitted a short radio signal. The resulting blast was like the end of the world.

* * *

The entire Camp was in chaos, with grey-clad monks joined by camouflaged soldiers (lower-case “s”, not the genetically-modified capital-“s” kind) to devastating effect. The soldiers working with the monks had tied strips of grey cloth around their left biceps to mark themselves as “friendlies”, a detail the regular soldiers hadn’t caught on to yet. They would soon given the chance. It was up to the monks and their allies to see they weren’t given one. Buildings were now on fire, adding panic to the chaos as men emerged looking like human torches. It was, Brother James reflected, as if Hell had come to Earth to stake its claim to the damned.

* * *

Everybody’s ears were ringing as the dust from the explosion settled. Well, everybody but Brother Gabriel. His body modifications had allowed him to shut down his auditory system until the effects of the blast had faded. He was on his feet even as the others were shaking their heads, trying to focus. He wanted to give them a chance to recover their senses, but it seemed the enemy would deny them that. Standing on the other side of the jagged opening in that now-opened door was about a half-dozen men in standard-issue olive-green military uniforms. Each had his arm raised, and in each raised arm was a Mark-Five railgun pistol. Capable of hitting a target five kilometers away, they hardly needed that range at the moment.
Knowing his men — some of them, anyway — were watching, he reluctantly decided to move. Activating genetic and technological modifications he hadn’t used in over ten years, he Accelerated, pushing his muscles and reflexes beyond human limits.
The first thing he did was aim and fire the crossbow in his hands, taking down the leader. Then he dropped the weapon, knowing it would take too long to reload. Drawing his combat knife, he raced at inhuman speed towards the remaining enemy.
He managed to kill two more before they got off a single shot. When the other three did pull the trigger, shock and panic made the shots go wild. He took advantage of that by killing two more before they knew what was happening. He grabbed the last man by the throat with his left hand, and paused for a moment with the knife poised directly in front of the fellow’s face.
He was just a kid, perhaps no more than eighteen or nineteen.
Gabriel Decelerated.
“I am truly sorry, son,” he told the boy. “We can’t take any prisoners, nor can we let you go free. Make peace with God and pray for His forgiveness.” He snapped the boy’s neck with a loud echoing “crack” and dropped the body to the floor.
“Brother Gabriel,” the voice of one of his men called from behind him. “Come quickly!”
Gabriel ran to the caller’s side. He was kneeling over another monk. The poor unfortunate hadn’t been hit by enemy fire — he’d have died instantly if that had been the case. No, instead, the projectile had struck the floor with sufficient force to send stone shrapnel into the air, striking the monk in the neck. “He’s bleeding out.”
“Move aside,” Gabriel told him. “Give me room to work.”
Here again, Gabriel was faced with a decision. Like his earlier speed, this was something he didn’t want demonstrated to his men. But he had no choice. It was either his own comfort and privacy or a man’s life.
No choice at all, really, he thought to himself.
Sheathing the knife, Gabriel placed his right hand on the man’s forehead, his eyes looked up to heaven. “Dear Lord,” he prayed in a loud clear voice, “shine your holy light upon this, your servant, and permit me to heal this man.” Then Gabriel took out his knife and sliced open his left palm. Red blood tinged with something black flowed free. Gabriel clamped that left hand over the wound in the fallen monk’s neck, closed his eyes, and appeared to pray.
He wasn’t, of course, but better the men believed he was than suspect the truth: that he was busy programming the forbidden technology running through his veins.
After a few minutes had passed, Brother Gabriel sat back and opened his eyes. When he took the hand away, the wound no longer bled and indeed appeared to be almost healed. Whispers of “It’s a miracle” passed from monk to monk. When he heard that, he could only sigh.
“He’ll be alright,” Gabriel said as he stood up. “He just needs to rest a while. We’ll pick him up on our way back. Come on, this way.”

* * *

Wherever you looked there were dead bodies. Betrayed by men they thought were their brothers-in-arms, the soldiers of Camp Sandy Hill never had a chance. The monks were busy checking each of those bodies, making sure they really were dead. Occasionally, they came across someone still alive and when that happened, they used the man’s own pistol to kill him.
The pistol so used was discarded afterwards, of course. The monks had no use for the demon-spawn of technology.

* * *

The Senators and Congressmen seated around the black meeting table looked at one another in puzzlement and worry. For some time now, the sounds of gunfire coming from outside the room had stopped. The silence was worse than the sound of battle, and the men worried that it meant the worst had happened.
Someone kicked the door in with a loud “Bang” and a man in grey combat armor entered the room.
“My God!” one of the Congressmen shouted. “I know you: General Toland! I thought you were dead.”
Brother Gabriel trained his reloaded crossbow at the man at the end of the table. Michael Forman, Vice-President of the United States raised his hands in surrender and slowly got to his feet.

To be continued…

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