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DONA NOBIS PACEM
by Jeff McCoskey
Sergeant Clausen could feel the hot fluid running out of his ears and down the side of his face. A glimpse at his ATF kevlar vest had confirmed it was his blood. After that awful peircing screech, his audible world had been reduced to an underwater rushing and an ache deep in his ear canals. Clausen worked the leaf tobacco in his mouth feverishly, in a vain attempt to fill the audible sensory void.
Clausen could feel the vibrations of his squad radio on his neck as someone transmitted something. "We're deaf dammit!!" he screeched, then nearly bit his tongue. He'd felt his throat nearly burned raw by his own cry, but the rushing silence was unbroken.
Get a grip Clausen. You've got twelve years of tactical experience. If you can't hear, the squad can't. They're looking to you for leadership.
Sergeant Clausen looked up and down the ATF/SEEKER skirmish line. Men were sporadically charging the Alpha trench system, their squads fanning out in fighting wedges behind them. When things go to hell, every soldier knows the last resort is the age-old military rule "do what I do." And if Clausen didn't do something quick, they'd all succumb to panic over their deafening. Himself included.
Sergeant Clausen spat a brown wad in the Georgia clay, stood up and waved his arms. In seconds he made eye contact with his squad leaders, then waved them forward. Clausen rushed to the next cover, then scrambled to a low rise. A brief glance behind showed his platoon following in tactically perfect wedges. He swelled in pride for a moment, before noticing plumes of dust gouting at his feet. Clausen rolled onto his belly. His M16 muzzle flashed and kicked in silence, and the tickle in his throat told Clausen he was cursing. Between the adrenaline, the taste of tobacco, the smell of cordite, and the jerk of his weapon, Clausen's sensory void was completely forgotten.
The deafening was a stroke of genius, but these religious wackos needed more than that to defeat professional lawmen. By God the time for negotiation was over.
Behind Sergeant Clausen's platoon, other squads followed his lead, wherever they could gain positive control. Behind them, the riot tanks revved to life in silence. The noose started closing around Adam's Garden.
In the command vehicle, Senator Graves screamed into the microphone, "Cease Fire, Halt the Advance! Goddammit Stop! Stop! Stop!!" Like Clausen, the only evidence he had that he was transmitting was the cold red LED on the radio and the rawness in his throat. The Senator's dark hand was nearly grey as it clenched the mike. Graves choked in impotent rage, but that too was lost in the wet rushing silence.
"No Olivia, this is the right thing to do," said Maria. Her voice was carefully sympathetic, but impatience was trying to break to the surface. It was taking too long, and the gunfire kept getting closer.
"Reverend Black, George, they seem so sure."
"I'm sure they are Olivia. But look into your heart and your scriptures. Jesus condemned Peter for taking up the sword. There is no clearer example. You know what is right."
Olivia nodded and dropped her weapon. "It's just that George will be so angry..."
Maria shook the woman, her impatience finally edging through. "This is your soul, Olivia! George can't touch that, nor save it. Only you can do that. Now get to the chapel, and raise the white flag with the others. Go!" Olivia nodded, but didn't start running until Maria gave a not-so-gentle push.
Maria examined the keystone, which was emblazoned with a symbol she was not familiar with. Pat had said...what about these things? They were set to bury the whole trench system? It was too confusing, too much too think about. There was just no time. "Cling to what you're sure of Maria. God is watching, and you're doing His work." She pulled the pin from a hand grenade, and rolled it to the base of the bunker's central support. She was sprinting for the next bunker before it exploded. "Our Father, who art in Heaven...."
Black levelled his glowing hand at the broken and decrepit body in the dirt. "Allen, I have a confession. Have time to listen? Of course you do. All the times I played this out in my mind, it was never quite this delicious. I mean, crippled, aged and in the dirt at my feet?" Black's laugh was resonant with the spirit inhabiting his body. "Is it too late to...?"
Spears of light spread out like a halo from Black's glowing head. "What? Is this your doing Covenant? My flock is fragmenting, deserting their posts? Cowards! I mouthed the words they needed to hear, how could this be? Bah. I'd hoped for more bloodshed before the final blow, but now is sufficient time. I'm afraid Allen, that I can no longer amuse myself..." Black again lowered his glowing hand. Allen had managed to twist his head around to see Black.
"And here I always thought people ran to the light. It don't look so attractive from here."
"And your final words a desperate joke. Fitting." Black's hand flared. Allen shut his eyes. The tendrils of light speared towards Allen. As they struck, the light shafts fanned into rainbows as if striking the surface of a prism. The light that suffused Black shifted abruptly, the glowing human outline distorted and undulated about Black. "What are you doing? You are bound to my will Shenwehi! Manifest!"
Allen's eyes shifted from his confused tormentor to the corner where Brian had slunk, forgotten. The plastic casing was removed from the psi-suppressor, and Brian removed his hands from the exposed interior.
Black followed Allen's gaze, spun around, then choked in anger. "Judas! What have you done to the supressor?"
Brian edged along the dirt wall. "I fixed it, 'Father.' Wasn't much to it. Seems someone had disconnected the power cable to the vaccuum chamber." Black saw at once what Brian's next goal was. The assault rifle that was propped on the wall where Black had forced Brian to drop it. They both broke into a dash for the weapon, Black trailing his aura like a sluggish visual echo.
Brian won the race. The barrel turned coldly and steadily to the Alpha leader. Black came up short. "Patrick, your soul is in jeopardy..."
"Save it Reverend. You've lost all moral authority here." Brian's voice was cold.
Black seemed to be only half listening to Brian. He struggled to regain control over his shade, but it was like grabbing jello under the influence of the supressor.
"Let's go Reverend. We're surrendering. All of us, before any more blood is shed."
Black sighed, seemed to deflate. The aura streamed out of Black, past Brian, into the trench system. When Black looked up, he had a nasty grin. "We'll do nothing of the kind. The keystones are marked with Shenwehi's sigil. Even with one supressor active, he'll be able to drive them home in the outlying bunkers and bring the whole system down on our heads. And with the riot tanks now advancing, the Omegas will still get the blame. Shoot me if you must, Patrick, but do it quickly. Unless the Eye of Justice can see through falling rock."
Allen had been scratching in the dirt with his one hand. "Eye? I don't have time to explain, but you've got to pull the plug on that suppressor. Do it now!"
"I'm Allen Covenant and you're costing lives here!" Allen didn't wait for a response before starting to chant, and reopening the wound on his chest.
Brian gaped at Allen as he squirmed in the dirt, blood covering his one hand, obscene characters etched in the dirt around him. He weighed the crippled man's words in a fraction. Without wavering the rifle's muzzle, Brian slid his toe under the cable and popped it free.
Black started in recognition of Allen's syllables. He matched Allen's chant with one of his own. Immediately, the bunker filled with light, causing Brian to squint. Allen floated up from the floor, then levitated opposite Black. A sardonic grin crossed Allen's face as the light writhed in the air between the two sorcerors. Vigor seemed to return to Allen, as the light swirled and struck inneffectually about him. Black and Covenant's voices roise in timbre and pitch as their chanting grew in intensity.
Black's eyes darted Brian's way, and a streak of blue lightning speared from the lightshow, throwing Brian into the bunker wall. He shook uncontrollably, the rifle tight in his paralyzed grip, on the dirt floor.
Clausen advanced his men towards the first bunker. Muzzle flashes had stopped there a while ago. If they'd got lucky and dropped the defenders, and no one reinforced this key point, they might just secure a foothold in the trench system. Then God help the Alphas.
Sergeant Clausen rolled over the slope, then plunged down several feet unexpectedly. He landed in a tangle of dirt, rock, and railroad ties. The bunker had collapsed. Either the Alphas built crappy bunkers, or they purposely caved it in. What were these wackos up to?
Clausen turned to wave his men over to the next mapped bunker. The ATF Agent's eyes grew wide, then he grinned. Behind his flying wedges, four riot tanks were weaving their way forward. Clausen gestured large so the TC's could see where the next target was. Heavy, silent impacts slammed Sergeant Clausen into the dirt. He vaguely noticed muzzle flashes of his men returning fire before his world went as dark as it was silent.
Henry burst into the last inner bunker. What he'd come to think of as Pat and Maria's faction had managed well so farseven laid down their swords and gone to the barn, and convinced more on the way. Jess had even volunteered to help pass the word.
This bunker was like most of the inner ones. The fighting was still contained to the outer bunkers. The two occupants were peering out the gun ports nervously, trying to spot advancing Omegas.
"Carl! We're turning the other cheek!"
The two nearly jumped through their skins at Henry's sudden words.
When Carl saw who it was, his face turned with ill-concealed dislike. "What are you trying to say Henry?"
"I'm saying Maria and Pat and a bunch of others are laying down their weapons, like the Lord taught us." The woman next to Carl seemed to relax, her face showing relief. She started to set down her rifle.
"Pick that back up," snarled Carl. "Reverend Black didn't say to surrender."
"But Carl," started the woman, "he's right." She shook her rifle half-heartedly. "This isn't the Lord's way." Carl stared viciously at her. She looked down, but her mouth firmed. Her rifle clattered to the bunker floor, and she stood up and started walking towards the bunker's entrance.
"Come with us Carl..." started Henry.
"Reverend Black warned us about this. About Satan turning even our supposed friends. You've poisoned your last bunker, heretic." Carl charged the weapon, then opened fire. Henry tried to push the woman ahead, but they were both cut down.
As Henry overbalanced forward, he focussed on the bunker keystone. A spastic lunge, the last conscious motion he would muster, and the wedge slammed home.
Carl screamed his hatred for Satan as the earth and railroad ties tumbled down on them, taking a major portion of the trench with it.
Kristen was sobbing freely now, above her rifle. Her watery vision prevented use of the weapons' sights, but the Omegas were getting close enough that it didn't matter. She squeezed off burst after burst, as she had been trained to do. The forms she took down looked distressingly not-Satanic as they fell to the earth. Beside her, George had fallen, his eye torn from his head. He was cursing and crying to God in his agony. Francis was quiet now, after only a few long minutes of screaming.
"Lord please protect Your soldiers and reward them. It is in Your name that we fight and against Evil that we work. Please let it be Your Will I am doing here. It has to be Your Will. It has to be Your Will." Kristen was not sure how many times she repeated that last sentence.
From deeper inside the trench system, a glow approached. Kristen spotted it in her peripheral vision, sank to the bunker floor. A radiant light, its brilliant center human shaped, stepped into the doorway.
"Dear Lord... You are so beautiful..." George's screaming stopped as he gazed with his good eye.
The form reached out, stretching a glowing appendage to the door frame. It brushed the keystone, which started to move inward. Kristen gulped. "My Lord, what....? Are we displeasing You?" Dirt trickled from above over George, Francis and Kristen. "No Lord, forgive us! Mercy! We mean only to serve You!"
Abruptly, the glowing figure pulled away, then shot back through the trench system. Kristen sobbed into the dirt.
Bullets pounded with increasing accuracy into the dirt wall opposite the gun ports, and explosions rocked the overhead cover. Satan's forces, or honest policemen, were getting close. The rumble and squeal of tracked vehicles inexorably increased in volume.
Maria crawled around the corner. "Kristen? The white flag is going up over the barn. We need to be there." Kristen nodded, hooked her arm through George's, and crawled out behind Maria.
The light swirled tempestuously through the dirt bunker. Black and Covenant were chanting in an unsettling counter-rythem that made Brian queasy. Streaks of blue lightning periodically speared from the light show and struck Allen or Black, usually when one or the other reached a crescendo in their chanting. The chromal maelstrom seemed like it should have been accompanied by a fierce wind, but the air was the still, oppressive closeness of the bunker.
"I feel like I brought a knife to a gunfight," muttered Brian. He had regained partial control of his complaining muscles and was painfully getting to his feet.
The blue lightning seemed about evenly paced back and forth. It was becoming apparent that with each strike, Allen was losing a little of his purloined vigor. Black too seemed affected, but it was clear he could take more physical punishment than his crippled opponent. Black reached a crescendo in his chant, and a brutal double strike knocked Allen from his levitation, and sent him to his knees.
"I can't just watch this." Brian gripped the barrel of his weapon, reared back, then teed off a homerun swing into Black's gut.
"Whooofh." Reverend Black was knocked to the ground into a sitting position. He gasped for air, his chanting abruptly stalled. Four lightning strikes in rapid succession speared the Alpha leader, leaving him twitching on the dirt floor of the bunker. Allen's chanting receded, and the light faded from the dark underground chamber.
Allen again slumped to the floor. Brian slowly edged towards Allen, and once his eyes adjusted to the darkness he reached him. The crippled old man was trying to prop himself up with his one good arm.
"Here I was beginning to think they called you the Eye of Justice because all you could do was watch. What kept you from shooting the bastard before he shook my nerves and rattled my brains?"
"I'm not an Omega, what good would that do?"
"Eye, this was magic."
"Yeah, well, that and I don't believe in guns. Anymore." In a professional motion, the Eye of Justice cleared the chamber and popped off the clip. It was empty.
"You seem to have some kind of pull around here," noted the Eye. His head was freshly shaven, and a hole in his ear attested to the alpha earring that used to reside there. He stroked his filthy, unkempt goattee which itched like crazy. Brian, Allen, and Isaac were standing next to Allen's beat up staion wagon. "Didn't I see that black Senator over there?"
Allen was back in the wheelchair. His face was withered and old, and his one arm gestured wildly as he spoke. "Yeah, well, what I can't get on my own I figured you earned a little supernatural cover. And you should see me get tables at restaurants. Think I'm eligible for the senior's discount now?" His voice was edged in bitterness.
Brian addressed Isaac. "Is he ever serious? He's talking about magic in the same breath as making dinner reservations. Am I the only one who's got a problem with this? Magicwhat's next, elves and demons and fairies?"
"This is serious for him. And it ain't right, but it is real."
"I fixed the suppressor because I figured Black was an Omega. If it was 'magic' why'd that work?"
Allen interjected. "If it helps, just think of them as the same thing. Magic and the Omega. You saw the effect it had on Black's binding spell." Allen turned to his wrestling partner. "You know, I think Black didn't realise the suppressor would work on magic. Calls himself a sorceror. Too much time in his books, not enough in the lab. Gave away the shade's name too, do you believe it? Must've forgotten I summoned the damn thingonce I had his name I could claim the manifestation. What an amateur..."
Brian interrupted, his ignorance translating to impatience. "Well maybe the professionals can tell me what the hell that was all about. Seems pretty clear Black wanted us all to die, and wanted it from the start. Had a serious beef with you too." Brian instantly regretted the insensitive tone in the face of Allen's crippling. The rest of his speech was more contrite. "So he used my tapes, your past, and 'magic' to set the Alphas up for a fall. Any idea why?"
Covenant looked up at Brian. "Say he'd been successful. What happens when the last Eye of Justice tape gets out, showing a slaughter of a religious retreat by Omegas who should be but aren't held in check by a stolen Government Supressor?"
Brian clenched his eyebrows together in confusion. Allen helped further.
"Say you've been scared shitless by Shiva, then stories of a hidden Colony of Omega terrorists, then a teenager with the power of God, then aliens landing, then Raven destroying Cincinatti. Say you and Granny and Suzy the girl next door have been scared shitless by Omegas. Then say you see on the news that your last defense, the miraculous Supressors, are a government-propogated lie."
"Turn up the fear?" Brian considered the thought. "Well I can't figure any other reason why he'd steal a Supressor, show it to the world, then disable it in secret. And this'd do it too, but what kind of motive is that for wiping out forty-odd people? Who thinks like that?"
Allen's face took on a perversely cruel smile. "Eye, the things you haven't seen. The Black Circle is..."
Isaac hastily interrupted, "Don't you have some first amendment rights to trample with the senator?"
Allen looked sharply at Isaac, softened his expression, then turned in the direction of a circling media circus. "I'll take the fifth on that. You two had better make good your escape before getting noticed. Look me up sometime, Eye, and I'll buy you a drink."
"Actually, I haven't had a drink in months. And I think I'll keep it that way." "Yeah, my new old liver probably couldn't take it either." Allen seemed to want to say more, but decided against it. He proferred his good hand and shared a firm shake with the Eye of Justice.
Isaac and Brian slipped into the wagon. The engine purred and they left the lone man in a wheelchair waving good-bye.
A sudden bit of regret flashed through Brian's mind. "I should have apologized for what happened to his youth and legs."
"No, don't let that worry you. Allen should have known the price of things by now and you're by no means to blame."
"The price of dealing with Omegas. Allen and I used to be normal humans once, before getting chopped, aged, zapped, and paralyzed."
"Normal? He's some kind of magician and you..." The full importance of who he was sitting next to finally hit Brian. "You're Stingray! Me and my pals loved you back when you were wrestling. Hell, you were world champ!"
"Yeah?" Isaac smiled bitterly. "Want an autograph? If so, should I sign it 'Stingray?' Perhaps 'Isaac?' I know, how about 'Nergal?' Or 'The Colony Gestalt?' Maybe I should sign as one of the other entities that has used or been used by my body since I ceased being a homo saipen?"
There was an uncomfortable pause. Brian didn't want to ask the next question, but he had to know. "So. Does this mean you agree with the Alphas, at least to some extent?"
Isaac thought for a moment. "Maybe I would have a few years back, after having a bunch of little kids beat the living snot out of me just because I wasn't an Omega. But most Omegas are human, or at least remember and care what it was like to be human. Danger just goes with the gene. You can't avoid that when you're special." Isaac looked at Brian with a wicked smile. "And woe be to those mortals who truck in their affairs."
"Is that why you cut Allen off about the Black Circle? To protect me? Hey, you can let me out here."
The station wagon came to a stop next to the steep hill to the north of Adam's Garden. "Protect you? Nah. You're a big boy. Just don't let yourself become a screwed up son of bitch like Allen or me."
The confined vehicle lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. Brian broke it. "Well I guess I better get going while it's dark, before the ATF gets off its duff and gets a count of Alphas. It'll be a while before they dig all those bodies out, might as well use it." And the remote cameras. Hope I remembered to wipe all the prints first, Brian thought.
Isaac reached out a large hand to the slender vigilante. "Well thanks to you, most of them were saved. That's something, man."
"It wasn't me. Black used me to set up this scenario, just like he manipulated you two for his revenge. His mistake was counting on blind faith. There were too many good people in there, that was what Black hadn't counted on. They're the only reason we saved lives."
"Yeah, well, I understand there was an organizer or two." Isaac grinned at him and pumped his hand warmly. "Can I call you anything besides Eye?" "Call me Pat," said Brian, and he slipped out the door, disappearing into the night.
Well, the Eye's got to catch up another year in continuity.
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