96 - Rome
PRESENT DAY Michael’s Jeep seemed to cut through what little traffic there was out and about so late as if it were nothing, cutting around vehicles where there shouldn’t have been room and avoiding pedestrians by hairs’ widths or less. Yet no one seemed surprised or angry to see us whizzing by; in fact, no one seemed to pay us any mind at all.
I tried to ask Michael why that was–I had a feeling it was related to why I couldn’t completely remember the previous times I’d met him even now–but with the top down, the wind whipping by made conversation all but impossible. Instead, I busied myself studying the strange smart phone that Michael had left in a small upright stand on the dash.
It was not entirely unlike any phone that I’d ever seen before, sharing features both with the one that I generally carried–although without an international plan, mine was little more than a paperweight at the moment–or those of my technology savvy friends. Yet it wasn’t exactly the same. Something always seemed ever so slightly off, despite not being able to put a finger on it.
As we cut through the streets, we gained steadily on Lazarus and Cerberus, although not as quickly as I would have liked. Luckily, they seemed to only have a vague sense of where Father Antonio and Amira were, following them closely but not taking several shortcuts that would have ended our chances of catching up first right there.
It was only when we were within a few blocks that I managed to realize just complicated the situation was about to become. Michael was an angel, Lazarus was just about as close to immortal as a living man could be, and Cerberus was… well, whatever Cerberus was. And here I was, a lowly priest.
“Um, Michael–” I yelled to be heard over the sound of the wind. He gave no sign that he had heard me, but I had to at least try. “–what exactly is the plan when we catch up with them?”
He must have heard me, as I distinctly saw him answering, but I couldn’t quite make out the words.
He half turned, swerving as he did, throwing me against the console in between us.
This time I heard him loud and clear.
“Thou shall not kill.”
And just like that, we were there. With a screech of tires pushing hard against the pavement to slow us down, we slid until we were sideways relative to the road, my side facing forwards. I looked out ahead and caught site of Lazarus, seeming almost to stroll along the sidewall–albeit more quickly a stroll than is normally polite–with the giant black dog form of Cerberus at his side.
At the sound of the tires, they both turned, Lazarus with an expression of surprise on his face, quickly replaced by anger and Cerberus with a demented doggy sort of glee.
I saw Lazarus say something to Cerberus but he was too far away and my hearing hadn’t quite returned from the assault of the wind, so I couldn’t make it out. Whatever it was though, Cerberus completed its turn and started bounding back towards us. Lazarus, on the other hand, turned away from us and started walking again. I though I could see two figures in the shadows disappearing another few blocks away from us; had that been Father Antonio and Amira?
I felt the Jeep shift and turned to see Michael launching himself out and over my seat entirely, coming to rest entirely too lightly just outside of my door. His sword was in hand and the previous suit he had been wearing had been replaced with none other than a bona-fide breastplate, silvered and gleaming even in the darkness of the night.
“You get your friends. Keep them away from Lazarus. I’ll deal with the hound,” he said. Without waiting for my reply, he bounded away.
Get my friends? I thought. How? But then my eyes fell on the strange, otherworldly smartphone, still running its GPS tracker.
Ah. That’s how.
I slid into the driver’s seat and threw the Jeep back into gear.
97 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO As soon as the Sergent had stepped out of the room, the sounds of shooting filed in instead. There was a thud against the door and I could only pray that the Sergent was okay.
Another round of gunfire and a series of neat wholes appeared in the wall, running upwards at an angle. I heard the sound of bullets whizzing past, like a swarm of angry hornets, each tearing into the wall behind me.
“Get down,” the shorter of the two MPs that had come in the with Sergent ordered. I didn’t even look to see if he had the rank to order me around, I just dropped to the floor. In a firefight like this, there was little that I could do besides pray. I could only hope that would be enough.
On the floor, I tried to find the other MP, only to find him lying sprawled against the back wall, his arms spread to either side of him. I thought I saw his chest still rising, but there was a darkening patch of blood on his chest, a bit below where the heart should be. Likely a lung.
I started sliding across the floor on my arms and belly, for perhaps the first time thankful for the number of times I’d been forced to do much the same during basic training. I reached him a few moments later–before any more bullets could tear through from behind me, but it was too late. Unlike the madness a week ago–Or was it three weeks? The loss of two weeks still hadn’t sunk in quite yet–this man had passed away without even a chance for me to save him.
I glanced up at his name tag.
No. That was impossible. I looked up at his face. No, it definitely wasn’t Jackson. This man had a swarthier complexion and pitch black hair, perhaps with South American Ancestry. I looked back down at his name take.
But it said…
I didn’t have time to worry about that now though, as another wave of bullets tore through the front wall. The gunfire outside was getting louder as well; it sounded as if the entire war were coming right to us. The building that we were in now offered essentially no protection, we needed to get out of here.
Scooting back across the room, I called out to the man by the door. He was down on one knee, peering out through one of the holes torn in the first volley of bullets.
“What’s going on?” I half yelled, half hissed across the room. I don’t know why I felt the need to be quiet, with all the gunfire going on, it wasn’t as if anyone else could hear us, but sheer force of habit was forcing me to hide my presence.
He half turned his head, only to jerk his attention back to the wall. “Strike force,” he said. “Not sure how many. They’ve got men in the courtyard already.”
I whistled slightly. If they’d gone through our perimeter that quickly, we were in serious trouble. Not for the first time, a part of me wished that I had a gun, that I could do more to help the chaos going outside.
But I knew my commandments.
‘Thou shall not kill’ was ingrained on every fiber of my being.
There were exceptions of course, provided for in the Catechism. Self-defense or in the course of war were possible, but only when no other option exists.
But was there another option?
Was I going to die right here, right now?