Chapters 18, 19 and 20
Against her will, Christine is reassigned to
Earth by God and her boss, Harry Moss.
We learn that even God is aware that
Michael Bay is a money-grubbing hack.
We learn that even God is aware that
Michael Bay is a money-grubbing hack.
And we find out a lot more about the
purpose of that enchanted Kris dagger.
purpose of that enchanted Kris dagger.
Christine sat on a comfortable sofa in waiting area of the 40th floor – the top floor, where all of the big decisions were made. Her office was on the other side of the building, but she’d been summoned by Harry and Father God.
The bus bombing was several hours old now, yet the death toll on Earth was still rising. She glanced up for moment. Rain still cascaded down the huge glass panes of the dome overhead, and storm clouds scudded by quickly outside. Strangely appropriate.
Christine watched a CNN news report on a nearby flat screen bolted to the waiting area wall. She should have been shocked, saddened…something. Whatever she used to feel in such a situation, though, was inexplicably out of her reach.
“Dr. Taylor, could you come with me, please? Director Moss would like to see you in his office now.”
The request came from Junko Furuta, Harry’s personal assistant. The Japanese girl waited patiently as Christine gathered her coffee and laptop, then followed Junko across the foyer.
All around the floor, conversation was at a minimum in the wake of the D.C. disaster. Children died every single day on Earth, some horribly. But it was exceedingly rare to lose 164 kids to a single terrorist attack, not including the emergency workers, teachers, parents and people near the blasts.
The location didn’t matter. Losing that many kids at once in Afghanistan or China would have been just as shocking. In her years at JHAD, Christine could only recall one instance that was as terrible: The 2004 Beslan School Siege, 186 children killed out of a total of 334 slaughtered hostages. Devastating, to say the least.
Like now, that event had been a very bad day for a lot of grieving Russian families, and God as well.
Christine sipped her coffee while Junko announced her presence. Junko smiled at Christine and ushered her into Harry’s office, then closed the door behind her.
Father God and Harry Moss appeared grim, the overhead monitors on the wall playing the destruction over and over again on various networks. Harry gestured for Christine to sit.
God looked at her coffee cup, then over at Harry. “When did we get a Starbucks?”
“Err…not too long ago.” Harry said.
“Nobody ever tells Me anything.”
Harry sighed. “Christine, have a seat. We need to talk.”
“What’s happened?” Christine said, taking a chair next to Father God. “Has the death toll stabilized?”
“No, not yet. We have a different problem down on Earth…related, but different.”
Christine was puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m transferring you out of JHAD, Christine,” Harry said, “effective immediately.”
“What?” Christine was stunned. “Transferring me to where?”
“I’m transferring you to Black Ops.”
“Black Ops? But….they’re assholes!”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Something important – and incredibly delicate - has come up, something we think you should handle.”
“Harry, I’m the deputy director of Operations. You can’t do this…besides; this place can’t run efficiently without me.”
“Oh, I’m not so sure ab - ”
God held up a hand. “We have an assignment for you, Christine. A problem that is very, very troubling. The bus bomb incident playing across Earth’s TV screens at the moment has deep roots that will soon affect a child that is special to Me.”
“Father!” Christine said. “A whole bunch of children just got affected by that dick-munching terrorist! And the death toll isn’t even finished yet. Why is one kid so special?”
“Christine…don’t you think I know that?” Father God said gloomily. “I brought every one of those children home to Heaven just a few hours ago.”
Christine shook her head sadly, realizing that much bigger problems that her own loomed.
“How is everyone?”
“As well as to be expected…bit of good news, though. Every single one of those kids had family waiting for them, which takes a great deal of pressure off of Pilar and her agency.”
Christine ran a hand through her hair, not knowing what to think. “But…please…you can’t just take away all of the years I’ve invested in JHAD. This is all I have.”
Father God glanced at Harry for a brief moment. “We aren’t taking away anything from you, Christine. Far from it, in fact.”
“Yes. Harry and I know the sweat and tears you’ve put into this place, Christine. We are asking for your help in an important matter. You know better than anyone that I’m no CEO-type. I never order anyone to do anything, I simply ask. This organization – as all of Heaven’s organizations – are volunteer-based. You, just like Harry, perform a service that we need because you wanted to. You chose to use your gifts – and your incredible brain - to build JHAD into what it is today.”
“Okay, Father…I guess You’re right about that.”
“Thank you. Now - and this is crucial - we need you to perform a different service…one that I know you can do well.”
Christine sniffed back tears, very nearly overwhelmed by the changes that were happening incredibly fast.
There was one thing she knew for a fact, though. Something she could take to the bank and lock in the vault.
Father God would never steer her wrong…and neither would Harry, for that matter.
Together, they had been her anchor for over four decades, and she wasn’t going to stop trusting them now.
“So…just who is this child that’s so special?”
“Her name is Siobhan Hallstatt” Father God said, then stood and walked over to one of the monitors that displayed SPEC 13 images playing in a loop.
The green Nissan van again.
God pointed the screen, at a close-up of the red-headed child strapped into car-seat. The cute kid that Christine had noticed earlier.
“Her?” Christine said.
“Yes, her.” Father God nodded. “The daughter of the bomber that struck this morning. The key to their operation”
Washington Memorial Park
Sonnet parked her government sedan three blocks from the Commons and hiked in past the police lines, flashing her Homeland Security credentials several times along the way.
At least a hundred police cars and tactical 4x4’s were parker haphazardly, lights flashing. Radio chatter was turned up full blast because helicopters were beating the sky overhead, three deep.
Some were military, but most were news choppers. Eyes in the sky.
Crowds of people had gathered, along with dozens of news trucks from every major TV station. The entire situation looked like an unmitigated mess, at first.
But then Sonnet started to notice a little bit of order to the chaos. ATF agents had already set up several military-style tents on the street next to their custom disaster-response vehicles. Police tape kept gawkers back, and a huge refrigerated truck was serving as a portable morgue.
A chain of command had been established, it seemed, and that was all well and good - although Sonnet wanted no part of it. She was just here to observe.
Her team wouldn’t be involved with all the dreary crap like gathering evidence at the crime scene or interviewing witnesses. She was too far up on the food chain for that nonsense, which was best left to the FBI and ATF guys. They were very good at their jobs, but they tended to drag out an investigation forever.
The Command Center in Homeland Security would be tasked with the important stuff – the design and origin of the explosives - which she intended to keep a very close eye on. The PETN, in this case, would eventually lead back to the Dal Clann Hallstatt…and Sonnet would covertly derail that enquiry as long as possible.
Her job would be like walking a tightrope, but she’d been doing that for well over a century. That was the thrill she sought, she supposed, when it was boiled down to the basic elements.
Walking a tightrope…becoming a special agent, dating a nutcase like James…standing amongst the carnage she’d helped to create today. The entire exercise was all just a vain attempt to feel something after 149 years of feeling nothing.
Sonnet was starting to get tired of it all.
She was here at the bombing site for a slightly different reason, however. To see where James had bought his ticket out of this life, what his sacrifice had accomplished exactly. As Sonnet moved past the grim-faced police officers, special agents and National Guardsmen, the scene of devastation began to reveal itself slowly.
First of all, shoes were everywhere.
Sonnet noted that most were children’s shoes, of all varieties - dozens of them - with a few women’s sandals and high-heels thrown in for good measure. That wasn’t the end of the aftermath, either.
She gazed at the jumbled refuse - discarded emergency blankets, torn medical packaging, twisted bus seats, ripped backpacks and burnt, shredded clothing littered the scorched street.
A hundred bodies were still laid out, covered in shiny aluminum sheets, shielding the dead from view. Hospital personnel processed them two at a time into the idling makeshift morgue.
Sonnet turned her head at a familiar sound, then realized what it was. Cell phones chirped under the sheets, never to be answered.
Several cars and ambulances had burned down to their bare metal, including the wheels. A few covered bodies still languished inside the vehicles, obviously melted to the steel.
Yet, the worst were the two buses. They had fused in the blast and ensuing fire - one upside down on top of the other. Firemen and ATF agents carefully cut away the metal sides of the buses, revealing their grisly contents.
Children by the handful were found bunched together, expressions of sheer agony on their young faces. Teachers and chaperones huddled over them in death, protecting the kids to the very end.
Super-tough agents and veteran firefighters broke down and cried, seeking comfort from one another. Sonnet turned away.
Maybe this was what she wanted to see and feel. Sonnet wasn’t sure. Although she was classified as a sociopath, Sonnet didn’t really care for the bombing as a means to an end.
Perhaps it was some vestigial piece of humanness that still resided inside her brain, she had no idea. Yet, Sonnet had never harmed a child – and this disturbed the core of her being that could have been a mother in another kind of life.
She looked back at the lumps under the aluminum sheets. Cell phones underneath still buzzed and beeped incessantly.
Alicia Sonnet shrugged. What was done was done. The dark side would be coming soon; they had gotten what they needed…a sacrifice...and a key to the gate.
This had just been the opening salvo.
“You’ve got to be joking.” Christine said, utterly astonished. “You want to reassign me to Earth…to what? Babysit a terrorist’s kid?”
Harry nodded. “I believe that’s the gist of it.”
“There is a bit more to it than that, Christine.” God sat back in His chair. “James Hallstatt was no ordinary terrorist.”
“No. Unfortunately, he was also batshit banana sandwich insane.”
“Father!” Christine was horrified.
“Sorry.” Father God said, embarrassed. “Forget, Christine, your preconceived notions of Islamic terrorism and Wahhabi hatred of the United States. Forget Saudi petrodollars feeding al-Qaeda and the ongoing recruitment of angry fundamentalists that can either shoot a gun or rig a bomb. Hallstatt is part of an organization that’s being guided by the dark side.”
“That makes sense, I guess.” Christine said. “I figured there was more going on here than meets the eye. Hallstatt didn’t trip any of our sensors beforehand.”
God pursed His lips. “There’s a reason for that. Some people let a darkness into their hearts that is so complete that even I can’t tell what they're up to, much less your sophisticated computers. James Hallstatt is one of those people. It’s actually quite rare, but you will see the phenomenon occasionally in dictators and serial murderers.”
“So, who is he exactly?”
“Oh, just a man. Hallstatt is – was – an ordinary man under the influence of Beyond-Salvage demons…his family in Hell, in fact.”
Christine sighed. Beyond-Salvage demons were just that – beyond salvage. There were certain people that had pissed off God with their conduct while living on Earth so much that forgiveness was a pipe-dream.
The type of person who qualified for the Oubliette, however, varied greatly. From stately Carthage priests – who’d burned 300 children a day to death in worship of their god Bali…to the quiet serial killer that dismembered kids in the dark recesses of his basement.
They all went to the Oubliette.
Christine was puzzled. “What do You mean, his family?”
“We’re talking about an extended Irish clan that doesn’t play well with others…led by two brothers - King Brian the Hated and Ulf the Quarrelsome.”
“Come on.” Christine smirked. “You’re kidding with those names, right?”
“Err…no.” God said. “A lot of this is before your time…by a thousand years. The Hallstatt brothers are not only extremely unpredictable, but time has also made them very savvy, as well. And for some reason they’ve taken a great interest in their nephew - James Hallstatt, and what he could do for them. The brothers have also figured out a way to communicate their desires to Earth.”
“I see. What does this have to do with the child - Siobhan?”
“That, Christine, is a very good question.” God said. “It seems that these individuals have now taken an interest in her, as well. I don’t know what their goals or intentions are, but we are going to put them out of business.”
“You don’t know why they specifically want her?”
“No, I’m not quite sure.” God replied. “But I do have My suspicions.”
“Anything You can tell me would help.”
“There has been a legend floating around the Oubliette for several centuries now concerning the Sukuh Kris. Ever heard of it?”
Christine nodded. “Absolutely. The Bichwa – the Sukuh Kris sword, is supposedly infested with Sukuh magic. Javanese metal smiths crafted a sword, as the legend goes, so deadly it could kill simply by stabbing the shadow or footprint of the intended victim. The sword was last used to disembowel Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707.”
Harry nodded and opened an ancient text. “The Sukuh Kris disappeared from Malay Archipelago after that, and its whereabouts have disappeared into rumors.”
Christine studied the drawings in the book. The Sukuh Kris was a pattern-welded short sword with a wavy blade. The watered steel of the narrow blade had a striking three-dimensional quality, like meandering rivers. “I have heard through the grapevine it was found, and being shopped around by a shady dealer in Istanbul.”
“We think,” Harry agreed, “that it arrived in the U.S. either yesterday or this morning.”
“That much is true.” God replied. “There is more to the legend, though.”
“You know of course, that if a man dies while committing a horrible atrocity against children, his soul will be sent for eternity to the Oubliette.”
Christine raised her eyebrows. “That much is obvious.”
“And that’s the rest of the legend. If this hypothetical man committed that atrocity while in possession of the Sukuh Kris…well, his soul will be ready to use the sword for a certain purpose.”
“In theory, if a certain ritual is carried out in Hell, that man could open the gates to the Oubliette.”
“Whoa!” Christine exclaimed. “Wait…what’s the ritual?”
“That is where things get murky.” Father God said. “But I believe the dark side needs Siobhan…that she’s somehow connected to this ritual. I think this is why she’s in danger.”
Christine didn’t like where this was going. “James Hallstatt…”
“The hypothetical man in question?” God replied, nodding. “I think so.”
“Let me get this straight.” Christine rubbed her forehead. “The Hallstatt brothers believe that convincing their nephew to kill a bunch of kids – along with himself – will unlock some ancient dumbass legend that could free them?”
“In a nutshell…yes.”
“Well?” Christine shook her head in wonder. “Will it work?”
Father God grunted. “Who knows? And it doesn’t matter, because no child should be caught in the middle of such things.”
Christine stood and drifted over to the window, watching the rain, trying to digest the information. Others things were at play as well, disturbing things that boggled her mind.
She would never admit it out loud, but she had thought a lot about Earth over the years. Christine had also made peace – in her own way – with her life there being finished…and everything she’d left behind.
Now she was being asked to go back…and Christine wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
There was one thing she was sure of. As time had marched forward, she’d struggled with everything that defined her, as well as her emotions. The world had passed her by over the last 42 years, and that hurt her to the core when she paused to give it thought.
Christine sometimes felt unbearable loneliness, and had become quite adept at putting those feeling to the back of mind and getting on with the job.
Her parents, still alive in London, would never recognize her now, as she hadn’t aged a day. Josh – once the love of her life - was reaching retirement age. He could be a satisfied grandfather now, for all she knew.
Every friend from Earth - except Phil Bellows - was long, long gone – swept away with the passage of time. Christine carried a scar on her soul that she hid from Harry and Father God, a deep wound that she didn’t fully understand.
She understood the symptoms, however.
Over the past few decades of tracking and profiling murderers, her heart had grown cold and indifferent – completely out of her control. Christine had never shared this information because no matter what, she was sure her job had never been affected.
Christine gritted her teeth, then pulled back her long blonde hair into a ponytail – still her signature signal that indicated she was ready for a challenge.
She turned away from the rain-streaked window, frowning at Father God and Harry.
“I’m going to need a team.”
Christine watched as Harry and God exchanged a nod, causing her to roll her eyes in exasperation. Her mentor and Father God had perfected some kind of strange communication that didn’t require words anymore. They were very much old cronies, and their weird unspoken language tended to drive her nuts occasionally.
Harry looked up at her and smiled broadly. “That’s superb, dear. I have the best in Black Ops ready to go.”
“I also have a request.” Christine said with a half smile. “I’m going to need ground transportation, right? I want the new Camaro…the Bumblebee-Edition Camaro.”
Father God looked over at Harry, perplexed. Harry shrugged.
“Christine has been playing a lot of Forza Motorsport 4.”
“But….Bumblebee?” God said. “I don’t understand the reference.”
“From Transformers, Father.” Harry replied. “You know? The Michael Bay movie?”
“Ah, yes.” God snorted. “Michael Bay. I have a special place in Hell lined up for bad filmmakers…he’ll feel right at home….along with his pal Ben Affleck.”
“That’s rather harsh, don’t You think?”
“Harsh? Are you joking, Harry? Did you see Armageddon? Or Pearl Harbor? Hell is too good for those hacks.”
Christine placed her hands on her hips. “We’re getting off subject.”
“I’ll handle the car, Christine.” Harry said. “Don’t worry about it. As for your new assignment, it really rather simple – you and your team will locate Siobhan Hallstatt and keep a very close eye on her. Above all else, make sure she isn’t harmed.”
Christine nodded. “So we’re a protection detail?”
“No, not exactly.” Father God rubbed an eye, sighing.
“A protection detail would mean you’re trying to keep her alive,” Harry said. “This is a little different. Siobhan isn’t threatened with death, Christine.”
“No.” God stood, placing a hand on her shoulder. “There is something we haven’t covered.”
“Siobhan is only five-years-old, and the situation she’s threatened by is potentially far worse than death.”
Christine raised her eyebrows, confused. “Worse…worse than death?”
“The Sukuh Kris legend has an ironclad requirement. James Hallstatt has to sacrifice his own daughter…blood for blood...to open the gates of the Oubliette.”
Christine was stunned. “But…that’s barbaric!”
“Exactly. So, in this case, a simple death for the girl would be a blessing.”