UKArchive ID: 36682mitch
Originally published on July 1, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 22 of the Light-Father: Harold's worst fears come true as two heavily-armed Order rotor-craft open fire on the Keep with their chain-guns. On the roof, Shiled awaits them, armed only with her crossbow and her hatred....
The pilot glanced with growing concern at the line of towering anvil-shaped clouds advancing from the south. “Angel Seven, this is Angel One. Great Abbey Control has notified us that we have only thirty minutes to complete the attack then we’ll have to put down at the local barracks and weather this storm.”
“Message understood, Angel One. The up-draughts in those storm-cells could easily shatter our rotor-blades.”
“It will be impossible to fly in them,” the pilot agreed, turning to study a display screen.
“Control reports another major storm system is coming up the Milverbore at us. Brother Ambling reports giant hail in Wyehold and Father Ereman reports a vortex near Arthburg and another in Bede - major damage is being done to the town but praise God, it’s missed the airfield. We have to clear the rail-yard of the Unworthy, Angel Seven, before these storms force us down otherwise Abbot Camus will rip our ears off.”
“Father Bucheort met something he couldn’t handle, Angel One, but there’s no guarantee the enemy will still be there.”
“Father Bucheort was overrated, Angel Seven,” the pilot scoffed. “Even if we do find Wiccans, we will have the honour of wiping the last of Satan’s harlots off the face of the Earth.”
“I hope so, Angel One. We would be allowed to take the oaths of Fatherhood if we exterminate the last five.”
“Amen to that, Angel Seven. Hold this position - four chains to the west is the designated target. Can you see those caravans hidden between the rail-wagons and the wall?”
“I was expecting something a little more impressive, Angel One. I’ll bank to the south and fire down onto the caravans while you take the wagons out from the north.”
“Understood, Angel Seven, but I notice your tail isn’t exposed by that plan,” the pilot said a little sarcastically.
“My co-pilot will watch the buildings behind you for any enemy activity, Angel One. We can advance and fire instantly.”
“Somehow that does not fill me full of confidence, Angel Seven. On my mark: one, two, three… mark!”
The pilot slewed his rotor-craft around and descended until he was hovering just above the ground in front of the mail-wagons. “Keep off my one-eighty, Angel Seven,” he instructed. “I don’t want ricochets in my engine-housing. Gunner, open fire!”
Both jet-black rotor-craft carried two powerful chain-guns attached to swivel-mounts on their reinforced landing skid struts. The twin snakes and cross emblem of the Order etched upon their fuselages gave them a sinister air of betrayal – angels of mercy corrupted into demons of genocide.
The pilot watched with grim satisfaction as the wagons and caravans were torn apart by the heavy-calibre rounds for nearly a minute. “Nothing could live through that!” he declared as the wreckage of the mail-wagon and one of the caravans burst into flames. “Angel Seven, stay alert, while we do a low-level sweep of the yard.”
“Be careful, Angel One. If you do draw them out, you’re vulnerable to attack when flying that low. The enemy could be hiding in any one of those buildings.”
“Why are you worrying, Angel Seven? These are children and witches we’re Redeeming,” the pilot grinned. “They can’t put a spell on a hail of bullets. We’ll inspect the sheds while you destroy those offices in case they’re hiding in there.”
The pilot guided his machine to the first shed behind the offices and hovered before the open rail access doors at its southern end. “Can you see anything?” he demanded of the co-pilot.
“It’s as black as Satan’s ass in there,” the co-pilot grunted. “Above us!” he cried suddenly, tugging at the pilot’s sleeve. “On the ridge of the roof above the door, there’s someone there!”
The pilot pulled on the collective lever and the machine rose up until he was staring into the determined eyes of a young woman standing astride the ridge as her braided hair whipped this way and that in the rotor-draft. “She’s not a Mother so she must be one of the Children of Exodus,” he noted as Angel Seven opened fire upon the offices. “Gunner? Can you see any others?”
“She’s alone,” the gunner reported from the glass nose of the rotor-craft. “She’s armed with a cross-bow. What in the name of Christ the Healer is she hoping to do with that?”
“She’s either out of her mind or she hasn’t got the wit to hide from us,” the pilot laughed incredulously. “What can this silly child possibly hope to do against us with just a crossb…?”
The co-pilot jumped as something heavy hit the windscreen. He was about to make a joke when the pilot convulsed because of the bolt buried deeply into his forehead but as his hands were grasping the cyclic lever, the machine veered sharply to the right. The co-pilot fought to gain control but in vain…
“Where’s Shield, Mother Fern?” Saul shouted as they hid behind the cranes and equipment in the shed. The roar of the rotors and the downdrafts tearing through the open doors buffeted them as did the noise of the adjacent offices being torn apart by the chain-guns of Angel Seven. Pup and Rabbit were screaming with fear and curled up in the foetal position behind an oil-stained workbench with their hands pressed to their ears. “I thought she was behind us! She’s too weak to leave her on her own! Where is she?”
Fern was clutching Eliza and Jacob tightly to her as they whimpered pitifully. She was glaring with hatred at the black shape of Angel One now filling the open doorway with its chain-guns swivelling this way and that as the gunner searched the gloom within for targets. “She’s finding her way!” she yelled back at him. “She knows what she needs to do, Saul - it’s what she is!”
“What do you mean by that?” he demanded. Suddenly, the note of the engine changed and the menacing machine rose slowly out of view. An icy fear gripped his heart and he turned to Fern in horror: “She’s on the roof, isn’t she? What good is a cr… what?”
“You were saying what good is a crossbow?” Fern answered with a raised eyebrow. The chain-guns had fallen silent and the sound of Angel One’s rotors quickly receding was followed by a deafening explosion which merged into the peals of thunder from the rapidly approaching storms. “Good enough apparently.”
“She brought down a rotor-craft with a cross-bow?”
“She did, Saul, but she’s now at the mercy of the second one.” Fern disengaged herself from the clutches of Eliza and Jacob and pointed to Pup and Rabbit. “Look after them - they’re frightened too,” she commanded. The two Feral siblings nodded then scurried over to cradle the terrified children. “Light-Father!” she called across the shed. “Come with me now!”
“What happed to that rotor-craft?” he called back. “I thought we were all going to die! Why didn’t it open fire?”
“Shield took care of it,” Fern said, brandishing her staff as lightning bolts tore across the southern skies. “We still have one more to deal with and Shield is on the roof. The rest of you stay where you are. Light-Father, Saul, follow me!”
They ran to catch up with her as she strode through the doorway, her long braids of hair and her loin cloths billowing behind her in the rising wind. Harold thought that even wearing breeches, smock and jerkin she was a captivating sight with her near perfect figure. He shook his head to clear his mind of such distractions as they emerged from the shed to behold the scale of the storms about to break. “Jesus,” he exclaimed as he stared upwards. “Those thunderheads are massive.”
Angel Seven was hovering over the wreckage of Angel One which had come down in ruin upon the workshops. Flames and smoke belched high into the sky forcing the rotor-craft to retreat. Saul saw an arm dangling over the roof edge and his heart was in his mouth. “Shield is still up there and she’s injured!” he cried out above the din of the approaching thunder and the rotor-craft.
“Now you know where she is, Saul,” Fern said, not taking her eyes off the rotor-craft for a second. “What are you feeling in your heart, right now? What’s more important – destroying this vile machine or rescuing your true love upon that roof?”
“Both, damn you!” Saul retorted and immediately raced to the metal staircase that snaked up the outside of the shed.
Fern laughed wildly. “You see it in him too, Light-Father,” she cried, raising her staff to the heavens. “A love greater that all the woe and calamity of this age; a love worthy of song and saga!”
“They’ve seen us!” Harold shouted, pointing at the rotor-craft as it turned slowly to bring its guns to bear on them. “We have to find cover - we’re sitting ducks here!”
Fern pointed her staff at the machine and hundreds of crows and ravens rose up from nearby roofs to fly into the windshield. Blinded and panic-stricken, the pilot took the machine up but dozens of the birds suddenly wheeled and flew straight into the air intakes. The engine immediately failed and Angel Seven fell out of the sky like a stone, smashing through the surviving roof section of the workshops and exploding. The tail rotor detached on impact and whirred towards them causing Harold to curse and duck but Fern did not move a muscle and smiled down at him as it passed a mere hand’s breadth above her head.
She startled him by taking his hand. “Come, Light-Father,” she said as the wind picked up and the rain began. “We need not fear Schimrian’s minions as long as this beautiful storm rages.” She gazed heavenwards and shivered. “Gaia has so much anger in her - I have not seen her like this for six years. This storm will last at least two days but before then we must flee this place or we will all die when the Order comes for us in force.”
“You won’t get any argument from me about that,” Harold grinned as he reluctantly removed his hand from hers. “Saul is having trouble getting her down - I need to help him.”
“As you wish,” she smiled back at him.
She remained standing in the rain, enjoying the feel of it upon her upturned face as Harold assisted Saul in getting the bone-weary Shield safely back down the stairs. Finally, they entered the vast shed together to be greeted by a chorus of ragged cheers except for Ibrahim who went straight up to Shield and gripped her shoulders hard. “You brought down a rotor-craft with a crossbow!” he said angrily, slapping Saul’s hand aside. “How is this possible? Did Mother Moss teach you far more than we know?”
Fern frowned and grasped his left wrist with a delicate hand. “You have great strength, Ibrahim,” she said matter-of-factly. “So has she yet you need to let her rest.” She squeezed and Ibrahim went grey and clenched his teeth in agony. Despite his best efforts he could not remain on his feet and sank to his knees. He tried in vain to prise her fingers loose with his free hand as she looked down at him with a fell light in her eyes. “You must not let your hatred of your father harden your heart like this. You must honour her victory - not sully it with envy and suspicion.”
“Yes, Mother,” he gasped. “I – I apologise, Shield.”
“Bless you, dear heart,” Fern smiled, releasing him. She leant down and kissed him on the forehead. “You are a warrior but you must conquer such thoughts and feelings otherwise you will die upon the path laid out before you by your Mother Moss.”
“What path?” Ibrahim asked, getting to his feet and massaging his wrist. “What path has Mother Moss laid out for us?”
Fern was spectacularly back-lit by the incessant flashes coming through the open door behind her and her eyes and those of the ravens on her amulet and staff seemed to glitter in the shadows. Harold felt a power in the woman that awed him and as if she were reading his thoughts, she tapped the ground with the base of her staff. A shock wave radiated out from the point of impact as if an earthquake had just struck. “May the triple Goddess bless you all,” she said kindly. “The last of the Mothers will be with you until the end for we have nowhere left to hide in Britannia. We will leave here and travel eastwards where we will confront Schimrian and his acolytes in the Great Abbey itself.”
“Are you completely insane?” Harold exploded. “Mother Moss brought me here to save these children not use the Phoenix to take them to certain death at the hands of an army of Brothers and Tally-men! What are you thinking…”
“You’ll never have a better chance,” Kai interrupted, leaning against a pillar for support. Ibrahim had carried him semi-conscious from the mail-wagon and Saul had untied his legs but his arms remained bound behind his back. Blood was still trickling from his mouth and a massive bruise was mottling his left cheek but he was determined to speak. “Apart from Great-Abbot Schimrian, there are two lesser Abbots, twelve Fathers, one hundred brothers and one hundred Tally-men – well, ninety-four Brothers now as those two rotor-craft would have had six crew members aboard them. There is a railway line that passes through the Great Abbey on the way to Port Kent – it’s the easiest way in as all the access roads are all guarded but as no trains run, the platform is not watched. Brother Ignatius who mans the platform tower is usually drunk – it’s how the Brothers pass their long shifts now that the land is empty.”
Ibrahim went over and gripped the young Brother by the scruff of his neck and shook him. “Why are you telling us this, you treacherous little rat?” he demanded through clenched teeth. “Are you leading us into a trap? If you are then I’ll throttle you!” He halted as a sword edge touched his Adam’s apple.
“That is enough, Ibrahim,” Saul said with an edge to his voice as keen as his blade. “Let him speak.”
Kai sagged against the pillar as Ibrahim reluctantly released him. “I was groomed for the Order,” he said wearily. “My father was a leading Stonemason and my family were Aldermen of Crawcester. Schimrian didn’t care that they died even though my family has supported the Order for generations. In his eyes, they were Unworthy but not me because the Order told my father that my genes were Worthy enough to join the One Hundred and Forty-Four Thousand. I deny Revelation!” he cried out, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Schimrian killed my family and everyone else I loved. I want to be there when he goes to Hell!”
Fern came forward and tilted his chin up so that she could gaze into his eyes. He could not turn his head away from her but it was a full five minutes before she was satisfied. “He’s telling the truth,” she said. “His soul is filled with remorse and guilt enough for the entire Order. He saw his family die as most of you did but he was trapped in the Great Abbey where they broke his spirit. He thought he was alone and did what he had to do to survive.”
“I was so frightened,” Kai admitted, dropping to his knees in remorse. “I was taken to watch people being tortured and turned into Tally-men. I was beaten and taken on hunts for the Children of Exodus and others who had survived the plague…”
“To draw other children out to their deaths,” Saul said in disgust. “You were there to convince them it was safe.”
“I and the other postulants were so used,” Kai agreed miserably. “I tried to save some whenever I could like in that hospital in Beorminghas and later in the main hospital here where I switched the patient notes of a girl they were looking for…”
He gaped as Fria stood in front of him with her hands on her hips. “So you do remember me,” she said angrily. “You sacrificed Cora in my stead but what happened to her?” She waited but he could not answer her. “What happened to her?” she demanded again, stamping her foot. “Tell me or I’ll… I’ll…”
“Do nothing,” Harold said firmly, placing a hand on her shoulder. She turned and buried her face in his chest and sobbed bitterly. He consoled her as he stared at the trembling Brother. “Well, what did happen to Cora? Fria needs to know.”
“Father Pious was furious to find out that she was dying and cut her throat anyway,” Kai said in a voice barely audible above the raging storm outside. “I tried to save her; I begged him to let her die in peace but he made me watch as he butchered her…”
Fria pulled away from Harold to slap Kai hard across the face and was about to do so again when Harold caught her by the wrist and drew her to him again. “Stop that! He is as much a victim of this madness as you are, Fria,” he said gently. “I doubt that you could punish this boy any more than he has punished himself. He’s free now - he can’t return to the Great Abbey after failing to kill us, Fria, so he’s now one of the Unworthy; one of us.”
“So you’re not going to kill me?” Kai wept as he put his forehead to the floor in despair. “I’ve seen too much and sinned too much for God to forgive me - I deserve to die!”
“Shhh, be at peace, dear heart,” Fern said gently, placing a hand to his cheek. “Sleep now.” Kai looked up at her in amazement then closed his eyes as she lowered him onto his left side then pulled a large rag off a nearby bench and placed it under his head to serve as a pillow. She stood up and turned to Fierce who was standing a little apart from them still clutching her Honey Bear to her chest. “How is Mouse doing?” she asked. “Is she still asleep?”
“Yes,” Fierce pouted. “But why did you ask me to watch over her in the foreman’s office when Shield was in danger up there on the roof? Shield has gone to sleep on the floor next to Mouse and I can’t get a word out of either of them.”
“It’s because Mouse needed you to protect her and you would have distracted Shield while she was fighting,” Fern said bluntly. “Don’t you two look so offended either, Bas and Amos – I’m sure your arrows and hammers are deadly but only a crossbow-bolt could pierce such an armoured windscreen.” She nodded at Harold and clapped her hands. “I want the rest of you find some spaces in the bays around the shed and look for anything you can use as bedding tonight while the Light-Father and I find food and a way of cooking it. There won’t be anything left in the wagons.”
“Probably not,” Harold said archly as the Scatterlings obeyed her with varying degrees of enthusiasm. “First I need to talk to you in private about taking these kids to fight the Order – I will not take them all to the Great Abbey to commit suicide.”
“Why do you underestimate them?” she inquired, raising an eyebrow. “These ‘kids’ defeated a pack of sixty starving dogs, fought a platoon of Brothers and Tally-men, put a Father to flight then one of these ‘kids’ climbed upon the roof and shot down a heavily-armed rotor-craft with a crossbow! They’ve survived against unspeakable odds – why do you think that is?”
Harold’s heart sank. “Let’s go into that store-room over there to talk,” he suggested. They kept the door ajar but the illumination from the skylight was poor and Fern’s features in between lightning flashes were shrouded in deep shadow. “Are you saying there was a genetic program at Exodus and this Professor Farzad wasn’t the only one messing about with their children’s genes?”
They sat down on the only two chairs in the store-room as the Scatterlings bickered over the best pitches in the shed and chattered excitedly with each other except for Pup, Surl, Peter and Rabbit who began a riotous game of tag with Eliza and Jacob.
“We Mothers know that the Order has manipulated blood-lines covertly for generations,” she said angrily. “Their knowledge of genetics was centuries ahead of the rest of the world and they used all those who were associated with the Order or worked for companies owned by the Order as blood-stock for their Gross Thousands. However, the scientists at Exodus were secretly doing the same for at least three generations and many of their children followed their parents into the company to carry on their work.”
“So they’ve survived because their parents and grandparents gave them a genetic edge?” Harold said with some surprise. “I must admit I did think they were something special when they were fighting – they know how to use their weapons and even Pup used a catapult to take a pigeon clean out of the sky without even looking!”
“Precisely,” Fern said. “Moss told us time and time again that this would come to pass. The others will be here soon and we will all go to the Great Abbey. We will destroy this abomination that calls himself Schimrian or die in the attempt.”
“But these are just kids,” he protested, spreading his hands wide. “And I’m just a technician. Do we have to go there?”
“There are only five Mothers left and twelve Children of Exodus,” Fern said bluntly. “What future is there for us if we hide? The climate is shifting, Gaia stirs and we will be hunted down in the darkness without mercy until all of us are dead…”
“…and they build their New Jerusalem,” Kai added drowsily from the open doorway.
“I thought I put you to sleep,” Fern said with some surprise.
“How can I sleep with such nightmares?” Kai said as he entered. “They will flatten Crawcester and build the great walled city to house the Worthy for all eternity and live in this Light of God as foretold by Revelation and the visions of Saint John.”
“And you don’t believe it?” Harold prompted.
“No. Some of the Brothers privately said that the discovery of the mutant seven-headed lamb was a little too convenient,” Kai said miserably. “Brother Simon certainly did. He believed that the Order created it and planted it in the Vatican laboratories but I think it was true – the Vatican was desperately trying to match the Order’s skill in genetics. The lamb was taken as a sign from God that He wanted Revelation to be visited upon the Earth.”
“Jesus,” Harold exclaimed. “This Schimrian really is a fruit cake – it’s a saying from my world that means he’s insane,” he explained quickly. “Round the twist. Barking – like a mad dog. So is it true you were all genetically selected into the Order, Kai?”
“Yes, we were chosen because we are all of high intelligence, above average strength and naturally immune to most if not all diseases,” Kai replied. “Could you untie me, Light-Father? These bonds are slicing into my wrists. I give you my word - I will not flee or betray any of you in word or in deed.”
Harold used a pocket-knife to free him. “I think we can trust you now, Kai,” he said. “But I just hope that we’re not making a terrible mistake in letting you live.”
Kai rubbed at his wrists to restore the circulation. “I will keep my word, Light-Father – it’s all I have left to give.”
“There is still a great weight on your heart, Kai,” Fern said sharply. “Would you care to tell us what it is?”
Kai drew a deep breath but he could not meet her gaze. “At the heart of the Great Abbey is a machine we call the Great Computer. It helped to design the Revelation Virus and has now developed a variant which can interact with the genes of the Worthy. The variant protects the gene segments that control cell division so that they don’t decay over time thus cells can replicate forever without ageing and without becoming cancerous.”
“Huh? You mean that the Order has converted the plague into a virus that cures ageing?” Harold gasped. “But you’re saying it will only work amongst the Worthy? That's just not possible.”
“It’s true,” Kai nodded miserably. “Schimrian has made it so that the Brothers and Sisters of the Worthy who will build and live in this New Jerusalem will be free of all disease and the ravages of Time itself. Don’t you understand, Light-Father? The Worthy will be immortal!”
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012-2013 Copyright protected
Archived comments for Chapter 22: Avenging Angels
Mikeverdi on 02-07-2016
Chapter 22: Avenging Angels
Ha! The plot grows. I look forwards to each episode.
Thanks, Mike. We find out more about the true nature of the A.I. at the Great Abbey in the next Chapter! Mitch