113 - Rome
PRESENT DAY “What happened to you?” Direct seemed the way to go
He seemed to be having trouble catching his breath. “Big dog.”
I’ll admit to rolling my eyes at him. Was rolling one’s eyes at an angel a sin?
As if I weren’t in enough trouble already.
“Yeah, big dog. I got it. Who won?” Michael had walked away, which I guess could have been called a win. But if that was a win, I’d hate to have seen the leader.
“Something… of a draw…” He was getting a bit better, but glancing in the mirror I thought I saw him wince. Weren’t angels supposed to be immortal? I couldn’t really imagine anything that could kill one.
Then again, up until earlier this evening, I hadn’t really imagined anything quite like Cerberus either.
“Well, they aren’t following us any more are they?”
“I’m sure… they are.”
Great. At least in the Jeep we could probably stay ahead of them. At least I was going to keep telling myself that until proven otherwise. I knew enough to keep half an eye on the phone’s GPS app now though. Any strange dots other than the four of us and I would be ready… To do what–no idea. But I would be ready.
“So where are we going?” His voice was starting to wax, regaining a lot of its previous stretch. I looked back. The bruises on his face seemed to be healing as well. If I wasn’t just imagining it, that was one heck of a health plan that the angels appeared to carry.
“St. Peter’s,” Father Antonio chimed in from beside Michael in the back seat. I glanced back at him now. Honestly, he looked a bit shell shocked. Then again though an angel had just basically dropped out of the sky nearly into his lap.
“Why?” A note of suspicion had come into Michael’s voice–and I didn’t think it was just a lack of breath any more.
A touch hesitantly, I pointed at the phone on the dash–four dots now, three blue and one green. “You got a call.”
“She didn’t say.”
“She?” There was a strange tone in his voice. Less anger now, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it was.
“She,” I confirmed. “We told her about Cerberus and Lazarus…”
“What?” Worried now. Definitely worried. “Hand me that.” He was pointing at his phone.
Amira reached up and popped it free, handing it back. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Michael didn’t answer, although the look on his face was worrying enough.
We were closing in on Vatican City now. If Michael was about to change our plans, he was going to have to do it soon.
“Interesting,” he said. At least he sounded less worried now. It wasn’t helping my own worry though. At this point, I could do without interesting. Interesting was pretty much synonymous with trouble.
“What’s interesting?” I asked. “And does this change anything? We’re still going to St. Peter’s?”
“Yeah, we’re still going to the square. It seems that it’s time to meet an old friend.”
114 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO “And where do you think you’re going soldier?”
The Sergent didn’t look happy to see me. Not one bit. Then again, I guess that was to be expected.
To lie or not to lie?
I was going to be in enough trouble as it was. Perhaps playing it straight would work better?
“I’m going to rescue Amira.”
He nodded. “I figured as much.” He looked me up and down. “Do you have any idea at all how much trouble you’re in right now? Or better yet, how much trouble you would have been in if you’d actually managed to pull it off?”
“Sir?” I was hoping that succeeding would have had some sort of mitigating effect. Apparently that had just been wishful thinking on my part.
“Luckily for you,” he said, “I’ve been given new orders.” He looked down at his hand, closed around something I couldn’t see. “I’ll admit, It’s a little unorthodox… hair that long doesn’t belong on a man…” His voice trailed off.
I waited a moment, but he was just staring downwards. I didn’t know if he was planning on telling me in his own time or not, but Amira didn’t have that sort of time. “New orders, sir?”
He shook his head slightly, eyes refocusing on me. It was as if he had been pulled out of his own little world. “Do you believe in God, soldier?”
I blinked at him. Of all of the questions to ask a chaplain, particularly a Catholic one such as myself, that had to have been one of the stranger. Would I really have been here if I didn’t believe? On the flip side though, it wasn’t a question that anyone had actually ever asked.
I realized that the question wasn’t quite as straight forward as it would have been even a few weeks ago.
War was hell, it had often been said, and nothing I’d seen here gave me any reason to doubt the saying. All this needless death, all for a war that may not have been any of our business in the first place. Men, little more than boys in some cases, cut down in their prime. It was enough to make anyone doubt that there really was a plan for all of it.
And I’d in particular been through a lot in the past few days–No… weeks. I was never going to get used to that. Powerful things though, things that would change a man. One would think that coming face to face with some pretty convincing evidence that there was at least an afterlife–or at least a way to come back after death–that one of the big unknowns had been answered for me.
But that didn’t necessarily point at an existence of God.
If it were God’s doing, then He had an odd way of doing things. What was it about Private Jackson that said that it was his time to die? And even more, once he had gone, what had it been about him that had allowed him to come back? It was a dilemma, no doubt about it.
Still. I had to believe. I wanted to believe.
I had to believe in something more than myself. That there was reason to everything, even all of this senseless death.
And I wanted to believe in a merciful God willing to forgive me all of my sins and take me in anyways, once my time had come.
And at the moment, that was as good an answer as I had. I was going to have to do a not insignificant amount of soul searching once I was home safe once again, but at the moment, the desire to believe alone was enough for me.
“I believe,” I said. My voice was quiet and I realized that not only the Sergent but Lee and Rush as well were all watching me closely. I thought I saw the Sergent at least letting out a held breath. Had that been some sort of test?
To ask if the Chaplain believe in God? What sort of test was that?
“Good,” he said. Well, if it had been a test, apparently I had passed. “Lee. Rush.” The two men named snapped to attention. “Rouse them men. We’ve got a bit of search and rescue to do.”
“Sir?” Lee asked.
“Which men?” Rush echoed.
The corners of the Sergent’s mouth twitched upwards ever so slightly. If I hadn’t been watching him closely, I doubt I would have noticed it. “All of them.”
115 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO Even after the time I’d already served, I was amazed at how quickly the men were out and ready to go. Even those that had been roused from their bunks looked wide awake and alert. It was almost as if they had been waiting for just this order, despite the fact that was impossible.
Then again, it wouldn’t have been the first impossible thing I’d seen recently.
Somehow, the Sergent had known that I’d taken a gun. He’d pulled me aside and asked me point blank to hand it over. I considered playing dumb–what could was I going to be able to do on a mission like this without a gun–but he just stood and waited. He had the air of someone that would be obeyed.
And what can I say?
He took it without a word. I’d expected rebuke at the very least, but there was nothing. He just silently took it, removed the clip, and shoved each into a spare pocket of his jacket.
Later, I saw him handing back the gun to the soldier I’d swiped it from. The man looked a touch surprised and more than a bit angry–never going so far as yelling at an officer, but he definitely was asking questions. But a few calm works from the Sergent and he backed down.
I never could figure out how he’d known which man I’d taken the gun from, nor how he’d calmed him down, but I didn’t ask. And he didn’t tell. There was something about that old policy in general that bothered me, but at the moment at least it was working in my favor.
Soon after that, everyone was ready.
When the Sergent had said that he wanted everyone, I couldn’t believe it. He was leaving nothing more than the bare essentials to guard the base, taking all of the rest of the men. Surprisingly, the men weren’t even grumbling, despite the hour. I guessed the recent attack and thoughts of revenge were fueling that more than any sort of regard for Amira, but at the moment, I would take it.
There was one real question that kept running through my mind though.
Who had this kind of authority?
Particularly, who was close enough to the action to know that something needed done, yet would have the will and the authority to actually get something done about it.
Not a question that I could really just go out and ask the Sergent, at least not right now. Perhaps he’d just tell us once we were going.
Then he was issuing orders, deploying the men. We were going straight to he museum first. I had no doubt that the same men that had abducted me had also taken Amira–although the why for either instance was still a bit murky–but why the Sergent seemed so confident was another question entirely. He hadn’t seemed like he’d believed my story earlier…
Maybe the same person that was sending us out had given him some extra intelligence. I could only pray that the Sergent knew what he was doing.
To my surprise, I was assigned to a squad with the Sergent as well as Lee and Rush. We were going to take point, pushing further into the museum–“even down into the basements, if need be.” Which at once surprised and terrified me. I knew the basements better than any of the other men, but that didn’t mean much. And I knew that without a weapon, I was just going to be dead weight out on the field of battle, someone to protect rather than otherwise an asset.
Still, he had his reasons.
And just like that, it was time to go.
We moved out in several squads, dispersing down streets to come down on the museum without warning and as quietly as possible.
As we went, I prayed both that we would have the element of surprise in the first place–and also that we weren’t already too late.