PLEASE NOTE: This is part three of a four-part story. Part 1 is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-bob-and-monastery-blo... and Part 2 is online here http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-bob-and-monastery-blo...
“Storm’s a-comin,” one of the ranchers told me. Monsoon season was about to begin in the north, which meant more Kirby swarms. For the past couple days, we and Saint Salome’s had been taking in families to protect them.
I’d been at Saint Bakhita’s for seven months. I was working the loading docks when our monthly supply truck came in. Despite having done this God knows how many times before, the driver munged it up backing the truck in, and crushed the track on our garage door. We couldn’t get it open, so Brother Steve sent me out to tell the guy to pull forward for a few minutes so we could fix it. As usual, Dan stood by, growling at the truck for some reason.
I yelled at the cab, but the driver had the windows shut, and was playing music really loud, and couldn’t hear me. (I think it was “Vlad’s Ring” by CWA, from what I could hear bleeding through the glass. It‘s stuck in my head for some reason). Frustrated, I climbed up on the running board and knocked on the window. He turned, looked me straight at me. I felt fear wash through me, my bowels turned to water, the blood instantly left my face, my eyes went wide.
His eye went wide, too. He only had one. An eye patch covered the place where another should have been.
He threw open the door, knocking me off the running board, and simultaneously he switched on the hover-fan and gunned the engine. There was an eruption of dust as the truck tore away. I was rattled, horrified, and completely filthy, with dirt in my eyes, my nose, my ears, everywhere. Some of the brothers ran out to see what the commotion was. They asked me if I was ok.
“Crap!” I yelled, and ran to the cloister. I tore to my room, Dan at my heels. An advantage to being a Monk is I didn’t have a lot to pack. I ripped off my robes, and jumped into some jeans and a T-shirt. They felt uncomfortably odd and close, after months of clerical clothes. I threw my things in pillowcase - a stash of instaburgers, two bottles of water - did I need more food? No, Dan could hunt and kill stuff for me. Water was harder, but I’d figure something out. I was a smart guy, and I had to get out of here now. What about my wrist computer and the other stuff I’d had on me when I crashed in the desert? Guo had given me a recipt for them when I first arrived, I could get them back from him, no, no, no. No time. Screw it. I have to go. By this time a cluster of brothers had formed, all asking me what was the trouble. I forced my way through them and tore down the hall. I ran as hard as I could.
I was maybe a mile away when Mendayev pulled up alongside me on a motorcycle.
“What are you running from this time?” He shouted.
“Same as ever,” I shouted back, “Les trying to kill me.”
“Explain” he shouted. I just kept running. He hopped off the bike, executed some kind of sweeping scissor kick, and I was down. “Explain,” he said again.
“No, no, no, no” I said, pounding my fists into my head, “How the hell am I supposed to have a normal life if interesting things keep happening to me?” I was pretty incoherent, I guess. Mendayev did some kind of Wushu move, hitting me in three places at once, just enough to hurt really bad and snap me back to my senses. His foot was on my windpipe, “Explain,” he said yet again. I did.
“Ok, let’s think this through,” he said calmly afterwards. “They’re coming. They’re still going to come even if you’re gone. So running away will accomplish nothing, except getting you killed in the desert. There’ll be Kirby swarms in a day or two at the outside.”
Gah. I hadn’t thought about that. “I have to lead them away from you.”
“In that case, you’d need to wait until they came, so they’d know you were here, and then lead them off.”
I was about to rattle off something panicky and self-destructive when he said, “You know, that’s not a bad strategy, really.” He grabbed me by my collar and dragged me back to his bike. For a 40-something dying dude, he was surprisingly strong. We rode back together.
The plan that emerged was pretty simple: I’d sit tight until the goons showed up, then hop on the motorcycle and head due north into the desert. Said goons would follow me, and Mendayev would call the cops. If we called the cops before the goons showed, they simply wouldn’t show. They’d go to ground and we’d have to do this all over again six weeks or six months from now. The terrain to the north was very uneven and loose packed sand dunes. Good for a bike, bad for anything else up to and including a hovercraft. We weren’t allowed to have phones at the monastery, but we had some old-fashioned walkie talkies that we occasionally used. They gave me one of those, and the bike had a built in GPS (“Gagarin Positioning System”) so it’d be easy for the authorities to track us down. We figured logically that they’d bring the hovertruck, so they’d be coming from the south. Simple. The bike was in the garage on the south end of the building, kept running, and with a couple extra gallons of ethanol. All I needed to do was hop on it at first sign of the enemy.
While we were discussing this, the TV in Mendayev’s office went to snow. I checked the walkies, and they weren’t working either. The rancher’s phones were all out, too. We were being jammed. Hadn’t counted on that. Crap. Hadn’t seen that coming. I had Brijesh run down to the store room and bring up several spools of self-splicing insulated wire to the Abbot’s office. Then I had a bunch of the rancher’s kids run the wires into every room in the monastery. I started yanking the backs off of all the walkies, and fiddling with the guts. When I was done, they looked the same, but had a foot or two of loose wire hanging out. (I didn’t have time to make the wires even)
“Now we’ve got an intercom,” I said, “Just carry these with you wherever you go, and if you need to send a message, touch the dangling wires to the ones the kids spooled out, red to red, black to black. Then you can talk to anyone who’s got their walkies touching the wires at that moment.” They were impressed, but this was early, early 20th century tech. I could do this kind of thing almost as easy as I could breathe. I kept one for myself, Mendayev said he’d keep one plugged in and monitored in his office at all times to coordinate.
“But how about you, my son? You can’t carry a wire with you on the bike?” I admit I hadn’t got that one figured out yet.
Peaceful prayer and meditation notwithstanding, I really would have felt better with a gun. None of the ranchers brought theirs, though. Most people on this world go around armed all the time, but weapons weren’t allowed in the monastery, and over the years they’d learned to just leave ‘em home. I did take one of the rancher’s phones, though. I figured once I got past the range of the jamming - be that a mile or ten miles - I’d call for help.
Just as we’d expected, there was a huge cloud of dust on the southern horizon. The truck was coming. I hopped on the bike, curved around the building and headed north.
What we hadn’t counted on was the chopper. I didn’t even notice it until a plume of dirt and fire erupted to my west. There was a smoke trail. I traced it with my eyes to a Bell G-126 hovering over the canyon. A man was hanging out the door with a grenade rifle. He fired again. I hauled north, and he missed, but the impact knocked me off the bike. Dizzy, I scrambled to get it up and back on it, but in the moment or two that took, the ‘Chopper had moved north, and was blocking my path.
So much for that idea! I gunned the engine and tore back towards the Monastery. I parked in the garage. The hovertruck was a mile or so off, still. Dan stood by the garage door, growling.
This was going badly very quickly, so Mendayev told the ranchers what was going on. Franks, one of the Orthodox monks, suggested evacuating people via the zipline, but Maynard pointed out that the chopper could just pick people off one by one if we tried that. It was fairly obvious, now that we re-thought it, that Les’s goons didn’t intend to leave any of us alive.
New plan: “Let’s move all the ranchers to the chapel,” I said, “To keep the kids out of harm’s way, until we can figure out a way to get ‘em out of here. There‘s a stairwell that runs straight from there to the zipline room. Mendayev, when I was a boy, some of the oldsters in church used to say that catholic monasteries had secret passages to nunneries so they could sneak around and have orgies without anyone outside noticing. Please tell me that’s true, ‘cuz we could really use a secret passage right about now.” Mendayev shook his head, no, and Franks pointed out that, per capita, this was primarily an Orthodox monastery anyway.
Many of the ranchers wanted to help, so Mendayev set to organizing them. I ran back to the garage, and peeked out the side door. The truck was minutes away, just south of the ruined dome/ranch/lab. I slammed the door. There’s got to be something I can do. Ah! The monastery was cinderblock, fireproof. I called some ranchers, and had them help me roll the bike and several 50-gallon drums of ethanol into the hallway. We left one in the garage, though. I sprayed eth all over the place using the high-pressure pressure cleaner on its lowest setting, then tossed a match and slammed the hallway door. That would at least slow them down some.
They didn’t come in through the garage. There was a car-accident kind of loud bang, and then Brother Theo’s voice came over the Walkie-intercom: “They’re coming in the front door.” Almost simultaneously, another panicked voice said “They’re on the roof! They’re on the roof!” “Pull everyone back from the main entrance,” Mendayev’s voice said. Yeah, we’d just lost the main entrance, I thought. I kept the walkie on while the ranchers and I slapped together some Molotov coctails. I heard Theo‘s voice over the walkie. “My friends,” he said, “This is a house of God, there can be no violence here I beseech y-” Then a bang. He was gone.
I ran up the stairs leading to the roof, peeked through: Two people with guns prowling around, a woman with a Mohawk, another wearing a full 19th century suit, complete with a cravat. There was a man in the chopper. While I was trying to figure out what to do, Dan popped out of an air vent on the side of roof opposite from us. He yapped, then ducked back in. Both of the goons turned and fired. My ranchers and I burst through with our Molotovs and let fly. “Aim for the intakes! Aim for the intakes!” I yelled. I figured the Bell was most susceptible there.
We threw our bottles. One hit uselessly on the roof, one hit the ’chopper near the port intake. One went through the open door of the cockpit, and set the interior on fire. The pilot shrieked and started batting at the flames, but there was simply too much fire. One down, I thought. The gunmen fired. Both my ranchers fell instantly, I would have too, but there were three targets and only two trigger fingers. The odds were 1.5 in my favor, just dumb luck. I ran back into the door, and some other ranchers slammed it shut behind me. We bolted it. Two of the ranchers leaned against it, one laughed nervously, then there was a flurry of hamburger and blood as one of the gunmen opened fire with a machine gun. Two more of my men were dead, while the rest of us fell down the stairs. Literally fell. At the bottom, a third rancher was dead, having snapped his neck in the fall. This was not going at all well. What to do next?
I used the intercom: “Zipline room, The chopper is down…” Was it down? Well, between killing the pilot and the theoretical damage to the intake, it seemed likely, “…start zipping kids over to the nunnery.”
“I know the chopper is down. We heard it land.” It was Brother Brijesh.
“No, no, I mean it’s now inoperative! Start zipping kids over.” I tried to report in to Mendayev, but there wasn’t a reply. Maybe the line was cut? Maybe he was in the can? The whole operation was coordinated (disastrously) through his office, I had to let him know what was going on, so I told my ranchers to get to the chapel and help their kids zip out of here. Mostly I just wanted to get them out of the way. They’d been nothing but meat for the grinder thus far. I had enough deaths on my conscience before I ever came to this place, I’d already added at least six more in the last five minutes. There was no way I was going to get out of here without adding yet more still, but I wanted to keep that number as low as possible.
Did I want to get out of here? I was semi-suicidal when I’d arrived. Maybe now was a good time to get my ticket punched, and end all this. No, no, no, too late for that, I realized, no one in here was leaving alive unless we stopped the goons.
I snuck through the foyer on a catwalk that ran through the upper level. The huge ornate door was shattered, as was the frame. They’d just slammed the truck into it at full speed from behind. I wasn’t sure the thing would even still run. There was splintered wood everywhere, and laying in the middle of the floor was the corpse of Brother Theo, the only Jesuit on Gagarin. I was shaken by that. I said a silent prayer for his soul, and moved on.
Mendayev, Zhou, and Rabinowitz - all Shaolin - were in his office along with Franks and Maynard, attempting to keep track of the situation. They hadn’t realized the intercom line had been broken somehow - probably when the truck hit the foyer - and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting any info. They situation was much worse than they’d realized. They really weren’t cut out for this sort of thing, but then of course why would they be? Me, on the other hand, I’m a killer, though I wish… well, never mind. I explained that the chopper was down, and we were evacuating people. They were happy about that, though they prayed for the pilot I’d killed.
Suddenly the door flew open, and Van Shank was there, gun drawn. “Hands where I can see ‘em” he said. His squeaky Long Island accent was an odd contrast to his movie star good looks. “Hello, Bob,” he said, “Les says ‘Goodbye.’ If you’re half the hero everyone says you are, why not step forward, take the bullet, and save all these people’s lives?”
I stepped forward, but I whispered “I was never a hero, I’m just a killer.”
“Ready for a tast of your own medicine?” he said a little too dramatically, and raised the gun. This guy wasn’t military, I realized, he’s holding the weapon too far from his body, where it’s too vulnerable. Mendayev grabbed me by my belt, and pulled me backwards. Rabinowitz and Zhou formed a line with him, and shoved me behind them.
“We’re not fools, my son,” he said, “You’re not letting anyone leave here alive.”
“That’s open to negotiation,” he lied, “You’ve got a vow of silence or something, right? Give him to us, we might let you live.” No one was buying that. Even Van Shank didn’t really seem committed to selling the bit. “If you don’t, though, nobody gets out of here alive. Ted!”
Ted - mister eyepatch - came through the door, and beckoned Rudy to follow him. Still naked, with his gourd and feather, giggling, completely unaware of what was going on. He tickled Van Shank with the feather. Van Shank swatted it away. “Ted, kill this freak.”
“Please no,” whimpered Franks.
“Thank you,” Eyepatch said emphatically, and shot Rudy in the chest. He screamed, looking more confused than anything else. It wasn’t that big a room. All of us got sprayed with some of his blood. Franks broke into frantic prayer in singsong Russian.
“Shut him up or he’s next,” Van Shank said. Mendayev raised a hand, motioning the monk to be quiet. Maynard put his arms around the guy, to calm him. “Vince, your turn,” Van Shank said, and a third man came in, with a small boy, five or six, in his arms.
“Give us Bob, or everyone here dies in front of you.” He said.
In measured, calm tones, Mendayev said, “I am telling you to let these people go and leave here now, or else…”
“…Or else what?” Said Van Shank, “This whole place is like shooting fish in a barrel. You can’t fight back, you’re monks, you’re pacifists.”
“Perhaps you’re not familiar with our Order,” Mendayev said, and then kicked Van Shank lightning-fast in the face, shattering his movie star teeth. Zhou and Rabinowitz were just as fast, taking down Vince and Eyepatch.
Startled by how quickly everything had happened, I just goggled at it for a moment, then Maynard handed me the kid. “Go save people,” he screamed in my face. I nodded and ran out the door as Rabinowitz hauled the unconscious Vince out of the way. Then I thought the better of it, ran back in, and grabbed Van Shank’s gun. I ran out again, unsure what to do next.
It was an old gun, an army colt .45. I didn’t know exactly when they’d stopped making those, but I assumed this thing probably predated the Spanish-American war. How much must it have cost to bring this thing all the way from earth? How hard must it be to get ammo? So Movie Star has a thing for the theatrical, huh? That might come in handy, I thought. The kid was justifiably terrified and screaming blue murder for his daddy. I tried to open the cylinder single handed while I ran, and nearly dropped both it and the kid, so I stopped. I had six shots. How many goons were there? I’d seen six, and I’d killed one, so that left five, assuming, of course, that the ones I’d seen were all there were. I prayed that was the case.
“Billy!” someone said when I ran into the chapel, I presume the kids’ father, and I pushed the boy into his arms. The stairwell was completely blocked by a line of people heading up it. “Make a hole,” I yelled, but no one knew what that meant, “Everyone move to the right side of the stairwell and press against the wall,” I yelled. They did, and I ran up.
Brijesh was there with a couple Orthodox monks, not doing anything.
“Move these people out of here!” I shouted.
“Bob? Bob Wilson?” One of the ranchers behind me said. I ignored him.
“We are,” he said, “As fast as we can, but we can only go one at a time.”
“We only have one motorized Swiss seat that can go up the cable.” As if on cue, it came sliding back through the window at that moment.
“What? Oh for God’s sake…” I did some quick calculations in my head, and figured how much weight the thing could safely haul. I grabbed some of the un-powered seats and handed them to the monks, “You can do six or seven kids at a time and one adult.” Hand these out, get ‘em ready. They started belting up kids.
“Bob,” the rancher said, “It is you! It’s me, Sam Green, remember me?” I blinked twice, not recognizing the man, and not quite comprehending what he was saying. Wait, was that…?
“Ensign Green?” I said.
“Yup! What a coincidence! When I retired from the Navy I wanted to get as far from the sea as I possibly co-”
“Now’s not the time,” I said.
“But these things aren’t powered, how do we pull them? Link arms?” Brijesh said.
“Sashes off now!” I yelled. The monks obediently took them off their robes. As they hoisted the kids on cables, I tied the parts below the wheels - I don’t know what it’s called - anyway, I tied the seats together, so they’d pull about three or four feet apart. “When you get to the other side, slide this whole thing back. Don’t untie it, that’ll take too long, just keep the kids calm on the way over, and slide it back as is, ok?” I didn’t wait for a reply, just kicked the little motor into ‘drive’ and sent them out the window.
Dan came in barking, and I followed him back to the foyer. He ran outside, and I went too. In the distance, a bunch of ranchers and their kids had set off on their horses. “Well, good, at least some got away,” I said. Dan barked dissent. I ignored him and went into the hovertruck to check it out, but the skirt was ripped and the frame was bend from the impact. There was no way we could fix it and get out of here in any kind of reasonable time. Dan came in whimpering, and herded me out of the vehicle. “What?” I said. He jumped up, bit my sleeve, and pulled my arm down so my hand touched the ground. I started to stand, but he growled so I kept it there. What was he trying to tell me? I willed myself to relax, to sort it out, but I couldn’t stop trembling. No, wait, that isn’t me, I thought, what is it? There was a low, almost subliminal vibration in the ground. Nothing you could hear, nothing you’d really feel unless a dog was pointing it out to you. What was it? Construction equipment? Something on Caterpillar Treads, like a tank? What now?
Mohawk appeared outside, two guns drawn, a grenade rifle strapped to her back. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t smile, she didn’t gloat, she didn’t do any of the movie bad guy stuff, she just shot. The only reason she missed was that at that moment a literal wave of Kirbys flooded over her. They started ripping the flesh off her like piranha, and she screamed as she went down. Dan and I hauled ass out of the foyer and slammed the door behind us as the things swarmed in. “We’ve got ants!” I yelled into the intercom. Two down, I thought. The interior doors weren’t hermetic, ironically enough, they weren’t going to keep the Kirbys out for long, if at all. I scrambled to a window, and the desert was entirely pink as far as I could see, then a pink sheet covered the glass, and I couldn’t see anything. “We’ve got a lot of ants,” I said. This was way more than last time. I was shivering really badly, my hands shook so bad I couldn’t stop them banging on the glass if I got close to the window. I couldn’t look away, though. I was scared as hell to begin with, and then the bugs. I don’t like bugs, not one little bit. I collapsed on the floor, my knees up, arms around them, unblinking, rocking back and forth, shivering. Dan let me sit like that for a few minutes, then started barking at me. When I didn’t react, he started tugging on my clothes. When that didn’t do the trick, he started nipping at me, little, painful bites that didn’t quite break the skin. That snapped me back to my senses, and we left.
I was checking in to the zipline room when Van Shank’s voice came over the line.
“Hewowe, Bob. Kwever intahcom yowe‘ve cone up wif here.”
“Lost all those pretty teeth, huh?” I said, “Ruined those movie star good looks.”
“I’ll get them fixthed” he said. He was speaking slowly, deliberately, concentrating on enunciating, but he still wasn’t sounding very clear.
“Didn’t hurt your speaking voice any,” I taunted.
“Gibe youthelf up and I’ll thpare the nunnerwy” he said.
“I don’t believe you,” I said. Besides, you’re trapped in here. Your truck’s dead, I took out your ’copter, ants everywhere. You’re in as bad a shape as we are.”
“We hafe gunth, Bob.”
“Maybe so, but you’ve got one less grenade rifle than you had before. Mohawk lost that outside.”
Zadok came on the line, “There’s a motor noise outside, and a horn honking.”
“NO MORE USING THE INTERCOM, ANYONE!” I shouted, “THEY’RE LISTENING IN!”
“Sorry,” Zadok said.
“That’th my wide, Bob. Weinforthments, too. Gibe up.”
“I don’t think so, Elmer.”
The Monastery had a mid-sized greenhouse on the west side, north of the main entry foyer. It was where we stored the beehives during Kirby swarms. It was a half-dome, one of my favorite places, all wrought iron and old glass, a hundred feet across. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went there. Zadok and O’Neil were in it, along with some of the Essenes, who were gathered around the beehives, and singing in Aramaic. I don’t speak it, but having been there a while, I recognized it as “The Children of Salvation and the Mystery of Existence” from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“Do you hear the motor noises?” O’Neil asked.
“Probably went around the building. It appears to be circling.”
The glass walls were opaque with ants. “How can you tell? I can’t see anything.”
“Use the periscope.”
“We have a periscope?” I asked. I’d been here more than half a standard year, I’d never noticed it.
“You’re not very observant, are you, my son?” He pointed to it, and said, “It’s here for major swarms like this, so we can see out, tell what’s going on. “Up scope,” I said, and as it lifted from the floor, I looked through, turning slowly. As far as the eye could see, pink. I shivered again, and Dan growled at me. I willed myself to be calm. The Essenes wrapped up their song and launched into “Chariots of Glory.” I liked that one.
Turning a bit west, I saw a cloud of pink ants flying in every direction, like a rooster tail from a boat going at high speed. “Truck coming towards us, everybody out.”
“Stand and fight,” Zadok said.
“I thought the Essenes were supposed to be a peaceful sect,” I said.
“That’s a subject of some serious debate. You obviously never read all that Eisenman stuff I gave you.”
“Sorry, I just find that kind of thing boring. Anyway, Zealots or no, you can’t fight the ants, and we’re gonna’ lose this whole room.” He contemplated that for half a beat, and coughed a couple times.
“Ok, everyone, fall back to the balcony.” The engine noises grew louder. A surprisingly quiet smash was followed by a much louder one as a hover-vehicle slammed through the glass...
TO BE CONCLUDED...
Copyright 2011, Paula Tabor, Republibot 2.0 and Republibot 3.0