(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.
Kansas City, Missouri
June 11, 2217
Detective Fulman’s instructor at the Police Academy had this to say about getting shot with a Neural Jammer: don’t try to move right away when you wake up. She was reminded of that advice when she regained consciousness and tried to move her right arm. Muscle tremors began in that arm, but quickly spread throughout the body. That was followed by cramps and dizziness, so she kept her eyes shut and tried to relax while those sensations ran their course. Time stretched out as she fought to maintain that tranquility. As she did so, she became aware of two things: she was upright, hanging by her outstretched arms, and she was stark naked.
The tranquility instantly forgotten, her eyes snapped open and she looked around angrily at her surroundings. She was alone (for the moment, at least) in a large empty room with small windows running just beneath a very high ceiling.
“Hey!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “Let me down from here!” At the risk of more muscle tremors, she began yanking at the bonds tieing her to … what the hell was it, anyway …? “What the hell is this, a cross?” She had indeed been tied to one of the Monks’ “X”-shaped wooden crosses. If she was upset before, she was positively livid now. “You sons of bitches are gonna pay for this, I promise you! Let me down from here, I’m warning you!”
Footsteps from behind alerted her to someone approaching. She turned her head as far as it would go to see who it was. But she did a double-take when she saw out of the corner of her eye the second cross mounted directly behind her. She couldn’t see who was on it as they were facing away from her.
“Welcome back, detective,” her Precinct Captain greeted. “Everyone reacts differently to a Neural Jammer. You seem to be particularly sensitive to its effects. We were starting to worry.” But the calm voice, intended to soothe the woman’s temper, had the opposite effect.
“Let me down from here, you bastard … you … you traitor! Let me down from here or I swear I’m gonna tear your face off and shove it up your friggin’ ass, you son of a bitch!” She began pulling on the restraints again, with arms and legs this time, so violently that at one point it seemed she might actually knock the cross off its mountings.
“I’d be careful, if I were you,” he warned her. “You might fall and hurt yourself.”
“Yeah,” she spat back, “like you’re not planning to do worse. Why? That’s what I want to know: why side with these nutjobs? What’s in it for you?”
“I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand. Some of these men … well, they’re in it for no better reason than violence and good old-fashioned sadism.”
“But your reasons are a lot purer, I suppose!”
“Like I said, you wouldn’t understand. The modern world has gotten out of balance. It’s grown too complicated. Too much technology and not enough caring. That attitude caused us to start a war with a peaceful alien species, and now we’re paying the price for our greed and our hubris.”
“Well, to each their own, I suppose. Still, Mankind has been given a golden opportunity to start over. With help from the Monks, and guidance from people such as Brother Gabriel, we’ll soon turn our lives around and start building a better world.”
“Oh, come on, you don’t believe that, do you? What the hell are you guys after? All this peace and brotherhood crap’s just a scam, so come on, spill it. What the hell are you really up to?”
The Captain sighed, a sound filled with genuine regret.
“I’m sorry you were dragged into this,” he told her. “Really. I was hoping you could be brought around. We need smart people like you.”
“Captain, you’re so full of crap your eyes are brown. Now let me down from here, dammit!” She struggled once more with the restraints, but she had no more success than the last attempt. The Captain shook his head sadly. “Brother Gabriel said to give you a message.”
“Why isn’t he delivering it himself?”
“Previous appointment, I’m afraid.”
“Yeah, right. To pick up more holy tablets from the mountain, no doubt. Give me a break!”
“Think what you will, Ms. Fulman. But he wanted you to know that he apologizes for all this.” The Captain waved his hands to indicate the cross. “Your martyrdom will benefit all humanity — small comfort for the pain and humiliation, I know.”
“Humiliation? You’re the one who has to look at me, pal. You don’t like what you see, that’s your problem not mine.”
“Brave words, detective. You’re a credit to the Force.”
“Cut me the hell down from here, and I’ll show you a little force. Turn you into a friggin’ soprano, you son of a bitch!
The Captain simply smiled. “You’ll excuse me if I pass on that offer,” he said. He turned around and walked to the far side of the room, allowing a man in grey Monks’ robes to take up position in front of her. The Monk lifted a crossbow and took aim for her heart.
“Goodbye, Ms. Fulman,” the Captain said. “May we meet again in Paradise.”
“If we do, you bastard, just remember that I’ll get there first, where I’ll personally escort your sorry ass straight to hell!”
For all her bravado, Fulman’s heart was pounding with fear. She certainly didn’t want to die, but there was no way she was going to let anyone know the terror now racing through her veins! She could have closed her eyes and ignored the crossbow along with her impending death, but that would have sent the wrong message. The Monks would get no satisfaction from her, no fear and no despair; only defiance. She did the only thing she could do: look her killer straight in the eye with as much hatred as she could muster. The Monk for his part seemed unnerved by that, and hesitated to pull the trigger — at one point lowering the weapon and licking his lips. Seeing that, Fulman sneered at him, mockingly.
“Well?” the Captain told him. “What’re you waiting for? Get on with it!” forcing him to take a deep breath and bring the crossbow back up again. The Monk took careful aim at Fulman’s racing heart, and tightened his finger on the trigger.
What happened next took place in the tiniest fraction of a second, forcing Fulman to replay the events several times in her head before they became clear. First came a strange new sound, something that resembled an electronic whine followed by a sharp “bang”, like a tiny explosion. That was accompanied by the sound of breaking glass.
Finally, the Monk’s head exploded, showering the room with blood and gore.
“Holy sh …” Fulman muttered to herself — fortunately, too far away to be touched by that shower. She never got to finish that statement, however, as the room’s quiet gave way to sheer chaos. Suddenly, that mysterious whine-bang sound was all around her, as was the wet thumping sound of bodies rupturing. The space that served as her prison was fairly large, but it wasn’t nearly big enough to contain the racket that now filled it.
Something whizzed past her head and took a chunk out of the wall in front of her, missing her by millimeters. Her Captain tried to run, but the next round (whatever sort of round it was) found him, blowing a hole in his chest so large, there wasn’t much left of him but arms, legs, and head.
“Oh God,” she thought to herself, expecting to die any second. “I think I prefer crossbows.”
She saw the attackers: men in military fatigues carrying odd-looking pistols with thick, extra-long barrels. Here and there, a few men dressed in black were mixed in, but they stayed in the background and let the military do the fighting. Now she did close her eyes, wishing at the same time she could insert fingers in her ears. The chaos of sight and sound was too much, and she just wanted it all to be over.
She hated being so helpless!
Then, as suddenly as it began, the violence stopped and silence fell over everything. She kept her eyes squeezed shut, expecting the fighting to resume any moment.
“Sorry I’m late,” a familiar voice said. Opening her eyes, she found her partner, Saldivar, standing in front of her. “But I decided to wait for backup. You know, like I suggested before you ran off half-cocked.”
“Oh, shut up and get me down from here.”
“I thought you liked being the center of attention.”
“Oh, ha-ha! Very funny, Dominic, very funny. Look, please cut me down? This isn’t a good look for me, you know.”
Saldivar started to move towards her, but a man wearing regulation fatigues beat him to it and swiftly cut the woman’s bonds with his combat knife.
“Now where’s my clothes, dammit!” she complained as she tumbled in a heap to the plascrete floor. The man who’d cut her bonds pointed to a pile of discarded … something … a few meters away. Fulman walked over and began pawing through the stuff. “Good, it’s still here!” she said, coming up with the C-specs in her right hand. Putting them on, she touched the right-hand earpiece and muttered a short command, ignoring the fact that she was still naked. “Ah-Ha!” she cried out excitedly.
“What’s up?” Saldivar asked.
“Well,” she lifted the C-specs to the top of her head and turned to face her partner. “Before I entered the bar, I started this thing recording both audio and video. It’s been running this whole time. I’ll be able to identify everyone in that bar, cop or no cop. Don’t know if that constitutes ‘Probable Suspicion’ in a court of law, but at least we’ll be able to round up the bastards and dump ’em in a hole for a while — get ’em off the streets at any rate. If we’re lucky, Internal Affairs will have enough to start proceedings against the cops who were in on all this. Another jackpot, Dom, another jackpot. Damn, I’m good. I …” Fulman then noticed the second cross, mounted just behind hers. Several men in jet-black coveralls were lowering an old man to the floor. He was naked and battered with cuts and bruises all over his body.
“Dear Lord,” she said, her eyes widening. “The Vice President. Is he … is he …”
“Alive,” one of the black-clad men explained. “Barely. We need to get him to a hospital.” One of the others was inserting an intravenous drip into the VP’s right arm, a bag filled with what looked like dirty water held in the air.
“Medical nano-bots,” she identified. Microscopic robots, the devices were commonly used in an emergency to save lives.
“We got to him just in time,” he explained. “I don’t think he would have lasted much longer.”
“You saved his life, Alyssa,” Saldivar said, approaching her. Bending over, he picked up her discarded clothing and handed it to her. She took it, distracted by what was happening with the Vice President. Suddenly, she looked around the big room, frowning. “Hey,” she said, “what happened to all the soldiers? The guys with those odd guns?”
“They weren’t supposed to be here. The only reason they were is because I was afraid you were right — that the Monks had infiltrated the police department.”
The woman started getting dressed.
“How’d you know you could trust them?”
“After Sandy Hill, the FSA began vetting everyone in the military.”
“Wow! Big job.”
“You’re not kidding. Anyway, we borrowed a big case of Truth Patches from the Federal Court system and started interviewing people, from Private straight through to General.”
“But the soldiers … they come in here just to shoot the place up?”
“Pretty much. The President thought it’d be a bad idea for them to be seen standing around afterwards doing cleanup. It’d look too much like an invasion. That’s not the impression he wanted to make.”
“He’s probably right,” she said, pulling her slacks on. “So, these guys in black are FSA?”
“Secret Service,” he corrected. “Anyone sees them carrying out Forman, it’ll look like the Secret Service rescued him. With help from the FSA and KCPD, of course.”
“Of course,” she said, pulling her shirt over her head.
“Alyssa …” Saldivar hesitated before continuing. The detective’s head popped out of the neck of her shirt, and she gave him a raised eyebrow. “One of these days,” he continued, “You’re going to do this once too often.”
“Take stupid risks. You never should have gone into that bar alone.”
“How was I to know my own Captain was going to be there? The Precinct’s clear on the other side of town — there should-a been nobody in there but locals.”
“Yeah, locals and armed Monks, apparently.”
“Alright,” she said, trying to change the subject. “So what were you doing while I was getting my ass handed to me, eh?”
“When I saw them carrying your body out, I followed them. I called the cavalry, and we arrived just in the proverbial nick.”
“You see? It did work out. If we’d both gone into the bar, we’d probably both be dead now. And if we’d called for backup first, the shooting would have started in the bar, the Monks in here would’ve noticed the ruckus and killed the Vee Pee!”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yeah, and neither do you. It all worked out, though, didn’t it? It worked out and Forman’s safe. Case closed.”
Instead of putting her jacket on, however, Fulman held it in her arms as she watched a wheeled stretcher being brought in and the Vice President gingerly placed upon it.
“This isn’t right,” she muttered to herself. Perhaps it was instinct, perhaps it was nothing more than the stress of looking death in the eye, but some small part of her insisted something was wrong.
“What’s that?” her partner asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she replied, shaking her head. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
Saldivar accepted that. It was, after all, a perfectly reasonable explanation given the day’s events.
But Fulman wasn’t so sure.
To be continued in Cross Swords…
<= Previous — Next =>