by A.D. Bloom
The Swiss Guard put up more of a fight than anyone expected, but as the siege of Vatican City came to a quick and bloody end, they were overrun and swept aside by the blue-helmeted, multi-national peacekeepers of the Global Secular Alliance.
Throughout the siege, the Vatican maintained a satellite connection to the internet, and the single Latin word spoken with defiant Pope Pius XIV's last breath traveled around the world in milliseconds, giving the Catholic insurgents a name – a single banner under which to rally in the nascent, first-world, guerrilla war against the G.S.A.
“Morituri,” the Pope said – 'we who are about to die'.
The man who had once been Father Patrick Doogan wore glasses, but he didn't need them to see the world around him; he needed them to see his private church, his holy world. To anyone but Doogan, the walls of his apartment looked bare, but through the lenses of his augmented reality glasses the walls were covered with ornate holographic crucifixes, and his crackled, water-stained ceiling reproduced a changing series of images from the blast-ruined Sistine Chapel's frescoes. The narrow hallway that led to his galley kitchen was lined with non-existent recesses filled with marble sculptures from the Vatican that no longer existed.
He rarely left his retreat, but when he was forced to go outside, Doogan's glasses covered up the PornoPop videos and the advertisements that danced on the AniLux covered buildings. They clothed the near-naked clubbers and sex-workers and they even projected the uniforms of ancient Roman soldiers over the G.S.A.'s patrolling blue-helmets.
Doogan lived in a private, augmented reality; in a city of millions he was alone with his god.
Flynn walked through Baccha Bay City's FEZ – its Free Economic Zone. There the city's skin was tattooed with AniLux motion coating and the buildings, the sidewalk, and the streets were alive with moving pictures. They advertised new sex clubs, new drugs, new cars, new tech, new toys, and any of a thousand other products with which citizens of the G.S.A.'s member nations could choose to pleasure themselves.
After the first blood-stained weeks of the Great Leap Forward, when Vatican City fell, Jerusalem's defenders were immolated from orbit, and Mecca was turned to dust in a thermonuclear flash, the world was appalled at the loss of life, but most agreed that the G.S.A. had saved humanity from itself. All religions were declared crimes against humanity, and by eliminating our greatest, most irreconcilable differences and uniting the nations of the world under a single, sky-blue flag, the G.S.A. had given the world twenty years of peace between the nations, widespread prosperity, and broad technological advancement.
Flynn hated the G.S.A. He hated them for his years in reeducation camps. He hated them for the friends and family he'd lost. He hated them for taking away his choice. Most of all, he hated them because humanity actually seemed happier with the hedonistic self-worship they'd forcibly substituted for god.
He stared up at a gargantuan, holographic projection dancing over the pedestrians and traffic. Flynn didn't mind a bit of skin with his music, but he sneered as he watched hundred-foot-tall Hi-5, PornoPop's megastar Queen of indeterminate gender, gyrating over him. Rumor was she'd been a woman before an addition to her anatomy. He thought she was an abomination, a walking blasphemy. After cursing his own eyes for looking at her, he kept them pointed down and watched the car advertisements in the sidewalk.
He was relieved when he finally turned on to a narrow canyon side street. There were no holograms. There were fewer cameras here, too. The city's CamNet made it hard to avoid being seen, and he wondered of the human recognition systems had been analyzing his walk, sizing up the proportions and arrangement of his features, and trying their best to put a name to his face. He hoped like hell they hadn't gotten a clear enough view of him with the extra large sunglasses he wore and with the hood of his jacket up. Lucky for Flynn, he didn't look one bit out of place, half the people on the streets of the FEZ dressed that way. No matter how popular and permissive the government was, it was always more fashionable to look like you were trying to dodge the CamNet, like you were a criminal or an insurgent who just happened to be out shopping, clubbing, or looking to consume good times.
Flynn hadn't been in the quickly changing, garish FEZ for ten years, but he knew he was close to the address he'd memorized. It was too risky to carry any kind of device to help him find it. He had to navigate from the memory of a paper map he'd studied before he quietly slipped into the city in a stolen SUV old enough to have no on-board electronics or chip-based identifiers. Those were hard to find. At least they were easy to steal.
One more turn, he thought, then two more blocks, maybe three.
A pair of eight-wheeled, G.S.A. armored personnel carriers passed him without stopping. Flynn did his best not to stare. Security is tight here, he thought. He wondered if the Protestant White Sunday insurgents and the Angry Angels were as active here as he'd heard.
At the door of 11521 Chester, Flynn rang doorbells with one hand, and covered the security camera's twin lenses with the other. Old tricks are the best tricks, he thought. He was inside the building within seconds. Moments later, he quietly knocked on the door of apartment 15G.
When the door opened to reveal a well-dressed man in his early fifties, Flynn smiled at him. He whispered, “Are you hearing confessions today, Father Doogan?” and watched the way the man twinged as he spoke the name. Every muscle in Doogan's body subtly contracted, stiffened with fear and dread, and Flynn was sure he'd found the man he'd come for. Without breaking eye contact, he withdrew a Sagami dart pistol from inside his jacket and fired a spread of whisper-quiet, narcotic flechettes into Doogan's thigh. Only heartbeats after the darts broke his skin, Doogan's eyes rolled into the back of his head, his legs crumbled beneath him, and he fell to the floor.
Flynn saw a hint of projection in the glasses that fell off Doogan's face. He picked them up, held them before his own face, and peered through them into Doogan's secret world. Long-dead saints looked back at him from the blank walls of the priest's apartment. Flynn laughed and said, “Why Father Doogan, you sneaky, sneaky, naughty, cheeky man.”
Flynn drove the vintage SUV through the desert night without headlights. Instead, he wore a pair of thin, tenth generation, nightvision glasses. Their matte black, seemingly opaque lenses were covered with a thin forest of invisible carbon nanotubes that captured so much light and reflected so little that they appeared to be twin panes of deep, black nothingness. Through Flynn's lenses the stars in the heavens looked bright enough to singe the earth with their glorious rays. The effect was significantly enhanced by an amphetamine variant called jitterthug that seeped into his blood from a transdermal patch affixed just over his sub-clavial artery.
In the passenger seat, the man he'd stolen from an apartment in Baccha Bay City began to stir from the cocktail of fast-acting narcotics in Flynn's darts. Without looking at him, Flynn said, “You can't run from the hounds of heaven, Father. They'll chase you down. You, of all people, should know that.”
“I'm not Father Doogan.” The words were faint. Flynn barely heard them over the antique, throaty, biodiesel engine.
“Why bother to lie, Father. I'm not from the Security Service. You'd be on your way to a reeducation camp if I was.”
“Then who,” he said, running his hands over his face and through his graying hair, “Who are you?”
“I'm a man who needs a priest,” Flynn said. As if reading from a dossier, Flynn said, “Father Patrick Doogan, ordained a mere two years before the Great Leap Forward. Never accounted for by G.S.A. Security. Currently living under the name Alan Harper in Baccha Bay City's FEZ.” Flynn turned to look at the man in the passenger seat. “It wasn't easy to find you. Lost your collar, changed your name, pretended to be a G.S.A.-loving secularist. But I think you kept your faith... in secret, of course.”
“What makes you so sure about that?”
“The glasses were a dead giveaway,” Flynn said, handing them back to Doogan, “but I didn't need to see through those to know. If you hadn't kept your faith, then we would have seen you publicly recant like the other clergy did.” Flynn spoke with a mocking tone of exaggerated grandeur when he said, “During the Great Leap Forward.”
Doogan stared at the darkness in front of him.
Flynn continued. “Instead of recanting... instead of being reeducated, you stole the name of a dead man and hid yourself away in the lion's den – Baccha Bay City.” Flynn's tone lightened when he said, “Quite clever... Really, I mean it... Who would think to look for you there?”
“What else was I supposed to do? Renounce God?”
“We appreciate you not turning your back on God, but how about your fellow man? You could have joined us, Father Doogan. You should have joined us.”
“You're Morituri,” Doogan spat.
“You sound like you don't like us, Father.”
“You're murderers,” Doogan spoke softly at first, but his voice quickly rose. “You're killers... terrorists... blasphemers who twist and pervert His word with violence.”
Flynn sighed. “Sometimes, Father Doogan, someone has to get their hands dirty. Someone has to go to Hell so that you can have your goddamn Heaven. Call it... my sacrifice.” It was partly the jitterthug talking, but Flynn meant it when he laughed and said, “Now that I think about it... I'm more like Christ than you are, Father.”
“You have no love of God in your heart,” Doogan said. “You're just a murderer.”
“I've killed.” Flynn said. “I've killed hundreds. I didn't hide safe in a private, little, holy retreat while the faithful suffered.” After a moment's pause, Flynn asked, “Do you care about anything but your own soul?”
Flynn kept his eyes on the road, but he felt Doogan's hateful glare on him, and it made his blood begin to simmer. Flynn knew that above all else he needed to keep cool. He reached down, withdrew the Sagami pistol from a well in the driver's side door, and shot Doogan full of narcotics again. Then, he slammed on the brakes. Watching the priest's head bounce off the dashboard made Flynn feel a little better.
A trail of fire leaped into the sky. In the light of its initial, flaring brilliance, Doogan glimpsed a speeding pickup truck and the man riding in its bed who'd launched a missile from his shoulder. They seemed far off, but it was hard to gauge distance as they bounced over rough terrain in the moonless, desert night. Another fire blazed and rose, corrected its path in ascent, and reached up to seek a target invisible to Doogan's eyes. There was a third rising rocket and then a fourth, too.
Ten thousand feet above, two WASP autonomous drones, tasked to guard duty like a pair of dogs, noted the ascending missiles and calculated their chances for evasion. Both drones decided that there was little probability of escaping the rising surface-to-air missiles, and both decided that their last few moments would be best spent in revenge.
A few bright, strobing flashes from two points high above was all that Flynn and Doogan saw before trails of explosions, a hundred yards to left and right, tore across the desert floor, punctuated, finally, with larger explosions and the dark silhouettes of twisted vehicles tumbling against the fireballs created when their gas tanks and the munitions they carried were detonated by rapid fire, miniature cannon shells fired from above.
The crude artificial intelligences residing inside the fuselages of the WASPs experienced something analogous to a pleasurable sense of fulfillment. Then, the trails of rising fire came together around them in the sky. Each of the drones were briefly illuminated by the close proximity detonation of two small warheads. They were shredded by shrapnel and tumbled to the desert below, impacting with sound, but no flashes or fireballs.
Flynn removed the glasses and switched on the headlights.
The desert floor that beat against the old shock-absorbers of the SUV appeared to Doogan for the first time. Baked earth, small rocks, barely any scrub... badlands.
Moments after Flynn switched on his headlamps, four more pairs of headlamps appeared to the left, right, and in front of them. Doogan realized the paths of the vehicles were converging, and only seconds later, the five vehicles braked to a stop. They were spread out and formed a ring around an incongruous, nearly featureless, hundred-yard-wide mound that swelled up from the otherwise flat desert floor.
“In case you haven't noticed,” Flynn said, “we're a hundred miles from water. There's nowhere to run to out here, so don't get any ideas.” He left the headlights on, killed the ignition, and exited the vehicle. He left the door open and stared up at the night sky.
After a few seconds of watching Flynn's upward gazing head rotate left and right, Doogan's impatience overcame the threat of being drugged again, and he asked, “What are you-”
“Shhh.... shush,” Flynn said with his arm and index finger extended to point at Doogan while he stared up. Doogan figured out that Flynn was listening for something, so he opened his door and listened, too. A faint droning reached his ears, carried on the night winds. In seconds, the faint sound of turbines was in Doogan's ears, and growing stronger. Something was coming closer, and when Doogan glanced at Flynn, he saw the man grinning and checking an antique, analog wristwatch. “With Slipstream Delivery,” Flynn said, quoting an advertising slogan, “your packages are always right on time.”
The Eakins OC-3 cargo plane had no pilot on board, but a thousand miles away, inside Slipstream Delivery's three-acre, deeply air-conditioned Flight Control Center, Harvey Lutz dripped sweat while he flew it.
In his head-mounted display he saw a ring of automobile headlights on the ground. They were easy to pick out on the darkened desert surface, even from fifteen thousand feet. Lutz's display showed him the glow of the vehicle's hot engines too, and he was both pleased and horrified to see them. Pleased, because he had the target in sight, could do what the Morituri had asked of him, and now he could guarantee the safety of his family. Horrified, because after he did the thing they'd demanded, it was unlikely that he'd ever see his family again. It was more likely he'd be sent to a black hole prison.
Lutz reached out with his hand to touch the glowing, imaginary, FOC switch in his head-mounted display. His gloved index finger flipped the switch and he took Full Operator Control of the aircraft. That negated any possibility of interference from the flight center's Artificial Intelligence. Beads of sweat ran down into the display system he wore, and they made it itch where it pressed against his face.
As Lutz pushed the control yoke forward and sent the small cargo plane into a full throttle, steep dive aimed at the ring of car headlights so far below, alarms began to go off all around him. He heard his supervisor's voice. “Lutz? Lutz! What the hell is wrong with him? Someone go get a direct feed from OCIS-115.” Then, he heard one of the systems engineers run up to his system, plug in a cable, and report to the supervisor.
“Nothing is wrong with OCIS-115, Mr. Bellamy – FCS and interface systems report green. Green all across the board.”
Ten thousand feet. Lutz did his best to ignore the shouting around him.
“Then why is my very expensive cargo plane diving at full throttle into the desert?”
“My guess? Operator error.”
“Well, take it away from him! Pass control to the AI!”
Five thousand feet. They could still rip me out of the chair, Lutz thought.
“I'm trying to, but he's engaged the FOC switch and bypassed all AI input to the control systems.”
“Well, hand it off to another pilot, switch it over to another OCIS terminal!”
“I'm trying, but something's wrong. Something's preventing it... I don't understand. It's frozen up.”
“Get him off that terminal!”
One thousand feet. Lutz saw the ring of cars below that marked his bullseye backing away from the target at high speed. He felt hands tugging at his body, trying to lift him out of the chair, so he pushed his legs forward, pressed as hard as he could, and wedged himself in his seat.
Lutz glanced down at the hack he'd paid one of the programmers five hundred Amero to add to his projected display. It was a photo of his family, made to look like it was printed on paper and taped to a holographic, vintage, magnetic needle compass. He'd thought the coder had charged him too much at the time, but now Lutz thought it was worth a hundred times what he'd paid.
“Lutz! What the hell are you doing to my airplane? Security,” Lutz's supervisor screamed, “remove Mr. Lutz from his OCIS terminal and lock him up.”
As the dust and the smoke from the suicidal OC-3 cargo plane's crash hung in the air, Doogan saw that large pieces of wing and engine were everywhere, but the fuselage of the plane that dove straight into the mound with such deafening din wasn't there, and neither was the top of the mound.
Flynn slammed on the accelerator, and the SUV's tires spun in the dry dirt before catching. He drove to the edge of the mound as fast as he could, and when he stomped on the brakes, they slid in the dirt again, creating even more dust clouds that rolled forward in the headlight's twin beams.
“Out,” Flynn said as he exited, “Get out. Out of the car!” He ran to the rear and popped open the hatch. When Doogan followed him, he saw the terrorist donning bulky body armor. “Here,” Flynn said, holding out a stiff overcoat for Doogan, who just stared at it. “Here!” Flynn pushed it into Doogan's chest. “It's bullet-resistant spider wool. You might need it.” He laughed. “The Lord protects those that protect themselves.”
He put the coat on while he watched Flynn arm himself with a vintage submachine gun, pack his armored vest's integrated pockets with extra clips, and sling a sack full of something heavy over his shoulder.
“Let's go,” Flynn said. He headed up the mound, kicking pieces of the plane's shattered composite wings as he walked. Doogan didn't move, and Flynn shouted over the SUV and clarified the situation for him. “More people will die if I have to knock you out and carry you, Father,” he said. “Follow me.”
When they neared the center of the mound and they were joined by five men equipped for an assault, Doogan saw where the fuselage of the plane had gone. There was a great, deep hole, stretching fifty feet across, and in the dim, red, flickering light, thirty feet below there was a landscape of wreckage and destruction surrounding a series of holes that led down to more wreckage. Blue flashes of lightning from severed, discharging high-voltage power conduits lit the scene every few moments in irregular strobes that enabled more detailed glimpses of the ruined, multi-level, underground facility below.
It was difficult to tell which destroyed, twisted pieces came from the plane and which had been part of the facility before the impact. “Hot damn, kilogram,” a man directly across the hole shouted to Flynn, “that's way better than any shaped charges we could have laid.”
“What can I say? When you're right, you're right, Cooper,” Flynn said. “Now let's get down there and get to it. I figure we've got less than twenty minutes before someone or something nasty arrives and cuts off our escape.”
There were burst, singed packages from the plane scattered everywhere. Clothes, consumer electronics, and stuffed animals were mixed in with twisted fragments of the plane's shattered composite fuselage and the underground facility's destroyed equipment. Sure footing was nearly impossible to find in the landscape of destruction. Severed water pipes added to the difficulty by making the wreckage slippery.
They lowered him on a rope. During the descent, Doogan looked closely while the high-voltage lines between floors strobed above him and saw there were parts of people mixed in as well. He couldn't see any whole bodies until they lowered him down through the second hole, down into what appeared to be barracks. Most of the bodies there were wearing only undergarments, but he saw one or two neglectfully posed corpses wearing full G.S.A. uniforms.
After they untied him from the rope, and he stood with bodies all around him, Doogan stopped to stare at one. Flynn mistook his unfamiliarity with dead bodies to be remorse, and as the priest crossed himself, Flynn told him, “Don't you dare shed a tear or say a prayer for them, Father. This is a secret detention and interrogation facility – a black hole. There's Catholics in here. Protestants, too. Jews and Muslims... I bet they've even got some Hindus from Shiva's Wrath in the basement. This is one of a hundred secret facilities where the Global Secular Alliance sends its high-value prisoners to be tortured until they've given up anything and anyone they ever knew. Then, when there's nothing useful left, they kill them and dump the bodies for the desert animals.” Flynn kicked into the ribs of the body splayed at Doogan's feet. The dead weight barely moved, but Doogan heard bones crack.
“Over here,” Cooper shouted from the far side of the wrecked barracks. “These doors lead to the elevator shaft.” They looked to the right to see Cooper standing in front of a set of double doors, beckoning them over. Then, there were rapid, staccato impacts like fifty ball-peen hammers hitting the door, and rounds burst through it leaving dark, jagged holes. Cooper's body jerked and spasmed like he was being hit with the hammers from behind. The bullets didn't penetrate his armor, but a single round caught him in the back of the head. He slumped to the floor, next to the bodies of two G.S.A. guards and the bent, upturned metal cots where they'd slept. Cooper's open, unseeing eyes watched the bullets continue to whiz over him for another five seconds.
The rounds stopped ripping through the door only as long as it took a man to slap a fresh clip into a G.S.A. Peacemaker rifle, chamber a round, and shoulder his weapon again.
The first Morituri grenade detonated on impact with the doors, blew them off their hinges, and sent them flying into the hallway. The world went silent. Before the smoke cleared, the Morituri grenadier fired another round from his rotary launcher, and then sent a third high-explosive grenade down the hallway for good measure.
Flynn pulled Doogan off the floor by the lapel of his thick overcoat and pointed at Cooper's body. “Him,” Flynn whisper-yelled over the ringing in Doogan's ears, “Him, you can say a prayer for.”
Moments later, five half-deaf Morituri insurgents and a shaken Father Doogan walked down the hallway, stepped over the smoking, shrapnel perforated corpses of two blue-helmeted G.S.A. guards, and made their way to the elevator.
Its call buttons still glowed.
“This leads to the guard station and the cell block,” one of Flynn's men advised, “The auxiliary power to the elevator is still getting through. The crash must not have severed the power conduit.”
“The guards down there will be alive and waiting to shoot us all to hell if we take that elevator,” Flynn said. “We'll be sitting ducks when the doors open. Is there any other way down?”
“One way in, one way out. That's it.”
“We can send down a single N-Hex gas canister with a RemDet grenade,” Flynn said. “The gas dissipates pretty fast; we won't need masks after sixty seconds. The nade'll probably mess up the elevator bad enough that we'll have to rope down and use the hatch to get in, but it'll be safer,” Flynn reasoned. “Do we still have enough rope?”
“Enough to hang us all twice.”
As the doors opened, the elevator chimed a pleasant tone that was inappropriate to the nature of the facility, the situation, and the hell it was about to bring to the guards below. Flynn withdrew what looked like a thermos from his shoulder bag. He handed it to one of his men who taped a remote detonation grenade to it and pulled out a pair of cotter pins, separating the grenade from the detonator module and arming it. He placed the assembled gas bomb in the very front of the elevator, near the doors. “We should stay back,” he said, “just in case gas leaks up the shaft.”
As the elevator doors closed, and they heard the elevator descend with its deadly cargo, they moved back down the hallway to the blown out doors near Cooper's body.
“Why did you bring me here?”, Doogan asked Flynn, “You don't need a priest to murder people.”
“You're right,” Flynn said with a sardonic grin, “We can murder just fine without you, Father.” This drew a chuckle from the Morituri nearby who held the remote detonator. Flynn nodded at him. With a smile, the Morituri poked the red button with the extended index finger of his right hand in a slow, exaggerated motion meant to draw as much pleasure out of the moment as possible.
The sight of it enraged Doogan. As he heard the detonation below, he imagined the nerve gas spreading around the guard station and the men dying in agonizing spasms.
“I'm through. I'm not going any further,” Doogan said flatly. “I'm not taking part in this.” Flynn rolled his eyes, and leveled his weapon at Doogan. “I don't care,” Doogan said, staring at the barrel of the gun, “You can shoot me for all I care. In fact, I'd rather you just shoot me now. Before my hands are as bloody as yours. Shoot me.”
Flynn sighed, lowered the gun, paused and said, “Last rites, Father Doogan. I brought you here to say last rites for someone. Someone down there. In the cell block. One of them is very important to me. I owe him a lot. I don't give a goddamn who says what over me when I die, but he's different. He does care if some stinking, selfish priest mutters mumbo jumbo, so I owe him that.”
“Is he too sick to rescue?” Doogan noticed the men around Flynn looking away uncomfortably.
“Yeah, sure.” Flynn said. “He's too sick to rescue. We can't move him... So,” Flynn paused and began speaking in soft but insistent tones. “Please, Father. Think of someone else for a change and bring your lazy, selfish, peace-loving, holy-as-fuck-all, priestly ass down there and give a good man his last rites instead of worrying so much about the stains on your own soul.”
“Sixty seconds are up,” the grenadier said. “The gas is harmless now; we're good to go whenever you say, Flynn.”
“What do you say, Father Doogan,” Flynn asked, “Are we good to go?”
The gas in the guard station had safely dissipated, but the scene it left behind was gruesome. Doogan had expected to see more bodies, but not ones so tortured in their poses that the last, agonized moments of their lives remained written in their twisted limbs, arched backs, and ghastly expressions. Eyes bulged outwards. Swollen tongues filled open mouths. Half of them lay convulsed in still-spreading pools of their own urine. The smell of human death that is never imagined before it is met hung thick and pungent in the air. It made eyes without a shred of grief for the dead water and tear from its stench. Doogan held his breath. They all did.
There were twelve naked men in the cell block. Each was in his own concrete-walled cell, behind thick plexiglass with holes cut for breathing and so that the guards could scream at them and be heard. There were no beds, no plumbing, none of what anyone with an ounce of humanity would naturally assume a prisoner of the civilized world to be afforded. The cells were designed with one purpose – to make the prisoner willing to do anything, give up any secret, betray anyone he knew for the thinnest promise of removal from that dungeon hell.
Flynn found the man he'd come for – what was left of the proud man he'd known, three cells down, on the right side. There, Flynn found his father.
Daniel Flynn was on his feet when his son found him, and he looked proud of that, but he didn't look proud of much else. “I'm glad they sent you,” he said to his son with a strained smile.
“So am I,” Flynn replied, his voice growing uncharacteristically shaky. It was plainly evident to Doogan that something pained Flynn deeply. Flynn sighed, regained some composure, and beckoned Doogan over to the plexiglass front of the cell. “Daniel Flynn, I'd like you to meet Father Patrick Doogan. He's agreed to come along and give you your last rites.”
“Bless you, boy,” Flynn said to Flynn, “Bless your soul.”
“Father Doogan,” the younger Flynn said, “allow me to introduce Daniel Flynn, distinguished leader of the Morituri in the Western states.”
“Your father?” Flynn junior and senior nodded in quiet affirmation of the fact. “Where's the sick man you said needs last rites?” Doogan asked.
“Shame on you, boy, lying to a priest,” the elder Flynn said without any hint of real condemnation in his voice.
“He wouldn't have come if he knew the truth,” Flynn said.
“If I knew what truth?” Doogan asked.
“This isn't... well, its not entirely a rescue mission. Some are coming with us and...”
“And some of us are staying behind,” Daniel Flynn said. Turning to his son, he asked, “Well... not exactly staying behind, I suppose, eh, boy?” The elder Flynn smiled.
“No, not exactly,” Flynn confirmed with a small, sad laugh. “I'm sorry. This was the best I could do. Best they would give me. Even after all you've done.”
“Its alright, boy. It's what I would have told you, too. When a man's been broken, he can't go home and he can't stay where he is...” Silence. “I'm glad they sent you, boy. I'm glad you brought a priest to give me last rites. I want him to do it, too. The other thing.”
Father Doogan gave the man his last rites.
Then, Flynn put a pistol in Doogan's shaking hand and held his grip over Doogan's fingers. The elder Flynn put his forehead to a hole in the plexi wall, closed his eyes, and waited. Flynn raised Doogan's hand, and as Doogan kept his eyes shut tight, Flynn kept his open while his finger pushed on Doogan's and squeezed until the pistol discharged.
He retreated to the blast-damaged elevator, sat on the floor, and put on his glasses with shaking hands. Doogan stared up at a carved wooden crucifix and the thorn-crowned body of Christ projected over shrapnel-torn holes in the elevator's once shiny, metal walls. He didn't pray. He just buried his face in his hands and wished the world had left him in his apartment, in peace, and alone with his God.
When he took his hands away from his face and looked up at the Christ figure again where it hung martyred, the blood-streaked, thorn-crowned head lifted itself slightly, grinned at him, and winked.
Doogan ripped the augmented reality glasses from his face and threw them at the ghost in front of him. Then he rose and crushed them under his stomping heel.
Doogan and Flynn ditched the SUV and rode the Morituri's underground railroad from the edge of the desert, through fields and farmhouses, condos and golf courses, apartments and bedbug motels for days. The people who hid them all shook Doogan's hand. They were all happy to meet a real, live priest.
Finally, at a forest highway's deserted rest stop, after Doogan blessed and anointed the car and the driver that had wordlessly brought them there, Flynn drew an antique, large-bore revolver. He pointed it at Doogan and marched him down the steep, grassy embankment and into the redwoods.
Doogan hoped that Flynn would shoot him and leave his body to rot under the thick forest canopy above, but Flynn just marched him deeper and deeper into the woods in a path that wended around moss-covered tree trunks two-yards-wide and cut up and down through bramble-tangled ditches. When they were in a mile deep and there was no sign of humanity except the two of them, Flynn ordered him to stop.
“Strip,” Flynn said. “Everything. Show us how the Lord made you.”
Doogan stood naked in the middle of the woods and shivered in the canopy's shade. After a minute of waiting for the bullet to come and wondering why Flynn had bothered to take him all this way just to kill him, Doogan finally said, “What are you waiting for? I'm ready. Kill me now before my soul is stained any further.” Then, he turned around and saw Flynn standing a few yards away, as naked as he was.
“Checkpoint,” he said.
Before Doogan could ask what that meant, the woods came alive. Men in adaptive camouflage appeared from behind trees and in high-hidden tree blinds and pointed vintage Kalashnikovs and stolen Peacemaker rifles at him. The forest floor itself lifted and swung on silent hinges in three places, and men with shotguns stood waist high in the uncovered holes where they'd crouched.
One of them set his shotgun aside, hauled a knapsack out of the hole, and clambered out without a word. He withdrew an antique lead acid car battery, slung it over his shoulder on a strap, connected a long, broad, looped wire wand to it with alligator clamps,plugged headphones into it, and approached Doogan. The man motioned for Doogan to lift his arms high. After Doogan did, he passed the wand over every inch of the priest and all his clothes on the ground, too.
He repeated the procedure on Flynn and his clothes. Finally, the scanner nodded to Flynn, said, “You're both clean,” and withdrew to disassemble his gear.
“Can't be too careful,” Flynn said to Doogan. “We were in a dozen safe-houses on the way here. Someone could have easily planted a tracker or a bug on us. Just a touch is all it takes.”
Flynn never asked Doogan to blow anything up or to kill anyone. He was much more useful than that. Flynn took his captive priest on tour everywhere among the hidden Morituri of the western states. There were so many. So many more than Doogan had thought and they were all happy to see him. Some of them had never met a real priest. His presence was proof that God was really behind them – that their cause was divinely sanctioned – that their war was truly holy after all, and that God hadn't forgotten them.
Doogan played his priestly role. He gave confession and communion. He gave absolutions he didn't want to give. Not to them. Not for what they did. He didn't withhold his blessings from any of the Morituri, and each and every priestly duty he fulfilled lifted their souls.
“Why the change of heart, Father,” Flynn asked him once while they rode in the back of a caterer's van to confirm their best bomb-maker's daughter.
“The time for me to hide away and do nothing is past. It's not my soul I have to be concerned with now,” Doogan replied, “Not now. Not anymore. Now, the Morituri are my concern.”
Doogan went everywhere Flynn took him and blessed who Flynn told him to. He even christened babies in small gatherings hidden away in basements and the backs of moving trucks. The christenings made him cry.
Over six months, he met hundreds of Morituri.
And he met their leadership, too. Those men were old enough to remember the feeling of blessings on their souls and the comfort of divine sanction. They were all eager to have Father Patrick Doogan among them. And Doogan didn't call them murderers. He kept his opinions to himself and stuck to meeting and blessing as many of them as he could – ministering to as many souls as he could while there was still time because he knew it was running out.
Flynn and Doogan were riding North from a secret wedding in the back of a stolen, tint-window, EM shielded limousine when the first trickles of blood began to run from Flynn's nose. It stopped for five minutes, but then, vessels all through the Morituri's body began to rupture. He leaked from his eyes and his ears, and within minutes the bruising began to appear all over his hands and his arms. He didn't check the rest of his body; he didn't have to. Flynn knew. “It looks like G.S.A. security finally reached out and found me,” he said. Doogan didn't even flinch at the sight of Flynn leaking blood, and to Flynn that spoke volumes. “You knew about this,” he said.
“You were the first to be infected,” Doogan said flatly, “so you're the first to show symptoms.”
“How?” Flynn asked. “What is it? What did they give me?”
“It's a fast-acting hemorrhagic virus – a custom-coded, host-adaptive Marburgh variant. That's what the G.S.A. med-tech said. I'm the carrier. Six month incubation period. For everyone else. They made it so it won't attack my cells. I can't pass it around if I'm dead.”
“It feels like my insides are melting,” Flynn said. “How long do I have now? Did they tell you?”
“An hour. Maybe less. They said it's fast.”
“So,” Flynn said with a coughing laugh, “you never intended to keep your priestly hands clean, did you, Father Doogan?”
“No,” he said quietly while he shook his head. “I made a choice. Just like you.”
“When did they turn you? G.S.A. Security. When did they turn you?”
“The day before you came, they showed up at my door. They knew you were coming for me. I don't know how. They gave me two choices – die then and there and be replaced with one of their Operators, or carry the virus to the Morituri myself.” Flynn coughed a faint, rusty spatter all over the tinted, EM shielded window of the limo. His face was already a single bruise of burst vessels.
“Why, goddamn it?” Flynn asked “Why turn on your own people?”
“To stop the killing. To stop you. For twenty years the Morituri and all the other groups, the Angry Angels, the Korean Methodist Militia – all of you – you've been fighting a war that can't be won. You'll never drive the G.S.A. out of the North American Union. The only thing that can come of your fight against them is death and destruction. Innocents killed. Maimed. It may stop this much faster now.”
“I couldn't have been more wrong about you, Father Doogan,” Flynn said. He clapped his applause, and as he did, Doogan saw his palms purple with pooling blood from the bursting veins in his hands. “You must be very proud of yourself.”
“I'm not proud. I'm more of a murderer than you've ever been, Flynn. Don't you understand? I haven't just killed you. I've killed every Morituri I touched since they infected me. That's how it passes – by touch. I've killed every Morituri you brought me to. Hundreds. A thousand. Every hand I've shaken, every person I've blessed, anyone who took communion by my hand. They're all going to die. Just like you are now.”
“God almighty. You did christenings, Doogan. Babies,” Flynn said, purple-faced and aghast. Doogan hung his head and nodded. “You're a monster.”
“Yes,” Doogan said. “I am. And the stains on my soul will never come clean. God won't forgive me. There's no penance to match the scale of my sins. I'm as damned as a man can be and I'll burn. Burn for eternity.” Then Doogan spoke Flynn's own words, “Call it my sacrifice.”
“What happens now?” Flynn asked.
“Now, you die, Flynn. You'll drown in your own blood, and everyone I've touched will, too.”
“Are they contagious? Can it pass from them to-”
“No,” Doogan said. “None of you – none of my victims are contagious. G.S.A. didn't want to give you a weapon you could use. The virus adapts to the genome of the host and mutates into a form that attacks only them. I'm the only one who carries the infectious version. Only I can pass it to other people.”
“I should kill you,” Flynn said, reaching for a weapon in his pocket.
“And I wish you would, but I know you won't,” Doogan said. Flynn nodded weakly, took his hand from his pocket, and slumped in his seat. “You don't care if some priest says mumbo jumbo over you as you die,” Doogan said, “but you know that your men do. They'll want last rites. And you know I'll give them.”
Flynn bled out inside his own body before the limousine reached the produce truck they were going to ride in for the next leg of their journey North. Doogan left him there and told the produce truck's driver to take him to their next stop so he could make his way back to Flynn's encampment in the redwoods and give last rites to the men hiding there.
Three days later, Patrick Doogan stood alone in the Morituri's woodland camp. There was no wind that day and the only sound was the buzzing flies. They smelled the blood that poured out of his victims from miles away and they swarmed to drink it, to bathe themselves and breed in it.
G.S.A. security arrived only hours after the last of the redwoods Morituri died. The counter-insurgent team that melted out of the woods in ski-masks, body armor, and adaptive camouflage were all careful not to touch Doogan. He guessed they'd been briefed about how the engineered virus he carried spread itself through physical contact.
“You knew where we were?” Doogan asked the faceless men around him.
“Of course,” the one in front of him said as he rested his Peacemaker rifle across his chest. “We knew all along. But why kill a few dozen insurgents when we have you to bless all of them.” He laughed. “Even their leadership.”
He reached into his vest, held a mobile device up in the air, and pointed it at Doogan. There was no image of his G.S.A. Security Service handler, but through the tiny speakers Doogan heard the words he spoke from far away, from inside the Security Service's headquarters. “Thank you, Father Doogan,” the voice said. “You did a very good job. Some of us had our doubts about using you for this plan, but you've been more successful than any of us hoped. You've killed half the Morituri in the western states and the leaders of the Morituri in the midwest, too.”
“You made me into more of a monster than all of them.”
“That choice was yours. We just made it possible. We gave you the option for a quick death and meeting your god with clean hands, but you decided to take a side. The right side. The many Morituri deaths you have caused will save a hundred times that many innocents. The Security Service of the Global Secular Alliance thanks you for your sacrifice.”
The ski-masked, armored figure in front of him ended the call, put the mobile device away in a vest pocket, and leveled his Peacemaker automatic rifle at Doogan's chest. One more sin wouldn't matter now, Doogan thought, but he was still glad to see he wouldn't have to kill himself.
If you enjoyed Morituri, then read 'Bring Me the Head of the Buddha', author A.D. Bloom's full-length novel set in the same world, but painted from the perspective of a G.S.A. counter-insurgent and a car thief who are both caught in the conflict between the Global Secular Alliance and the faith-based insurgents that fight it.
'Bring Me the Head of the Buddha' is currently available on Kindle.