16. Sh’Karee

July 14, 2007

Faithful Book One Chapter 16
High above the vast public baths of the Acropolitan Thermae, Faith’s secret chambers darkened with the rapid approach of the final pentad in the 45-hour day. Paul Sebastian and Michael Constantine’s red uniforms contrasted against the glowing gaseous disk of Planet Gaia in Court-at-Columbia’s evening sky.

The regard between the men shrouded darkly, too.

Parliamentary passed the reforms,” Reverend Constable Paul Sebastian xiDuang proclaimed. He twisted a face when the news elicited little interest on Constantine’s uncharacteristically stony face.

The Archangel listened, although He took care to appear preoccupied elsewhere.

As had become His custom while sequestered, The Archangel perched atop ancient masonry like a sculpted gargoyle of perfect balance and intensity. His favored spot protected a small shaft that extended hundreds of meters through rock and architecture to vents and ducks latticing the bath works below. The chatter of oblivious Thermae bathers, a hundred choruses playing at once, rose to whisper in His acutely tuned ears.

Still, He allowed His focus to eavesdrop on the two Templar soldier-priests who retreated to the battlements outside. His senses observed a curious exchange of tension brewing between His chaperones.

In defiance of the other’s silence, Sebastian began again, “They wasted little time in dismissing etaSade’s amendments. After the other delegates heard what he was up to, no one wanted to back the new measures he tried imposing. Anyway, he wasn’t around to defend them.”

He continued, “There’s no telling how high in the Guild and House eta this human trafficking ring goes. Faith and Parliamentary will probably be sorting it out for years. Funny, don’t you think, etaSade woke today a saint and savior and he’ll sleep tonight Aideena’s greatest villain.”

Constantine flinched, as though pained, and turned himself away from the senior Templar.

The movement chilled Sebastian. He calculated that the younger Faithful deserved his foul mood, a good thickening of his skin for being undisciplined and naïve and light colored. He relished that the blond finally shut up.

But, then, Sebastian suddenly, inexplicably, felt he needed Constantine to speak. An indiscernible feeling disquieted him about Reverend Constable tau Valez’ silence.

“The eta boy that was killed got what he wanted after all: Sh’karee,” xiDuang mused aloud, abandoning his conceit and measuring his words.

“Imagine what Sade and his conspirators might have gotten away with hadn’t he attempted it. There’s no better case for justifiable revenge upon a clansman who’s brought dishonored on one’s House and ancestors, if you ask me. By Creation, consider the situation he found himself. How many people these days would have had the courage to invoke Sh’karee and act on it?”

Michael Constantine suddenly whipped around. Face reddening, the anger in his eyes turned to burning rage and scalded Paul Sebastian with a smoldering incrimination. He lunged forward and, just as xiDuang’s martial instincts pinned him on the ground, warning siren trumpeted.

“Security breach, sector beta. Security breach, sector beta,” an automated voice announced.

The two Faithful reacted, instantly reaching for their pulsons and Discipliners, and racing for the shielded anterior staircase. They descended only a few steps when, onto the landing below, a lone shapely figure emerged from the shadows, her way barred by a thin traveling energy barrier.

“Matron Seneca!” tauValez vocalized his shock.

“Halt!” said Paul Sebastian, equally stunned. “How the Hell did you break our protocols?”

Steady, as though accustomed to having pulsons leveled at her, omegaMarat Seneca eased a sly smile, “As a matriarch of House omega I am not without my resources, even within Faith, Disciple Paul.”

Hurried bootsteps behind the matron announced the arrival of more Templar to the rear. Recognizing the personage before him, and with a nod from Sebastian, Faithful John Gregory alphaOsloe stood down the alarm.

“This area is prohibited, by order of Faith,” xiDuang harped. “Retreat now or I’ll arrest you where you stand.”

“I’ll see The Archangel,” Seneca answered, undeterred.

“Impossible,” Sebastian countered. “Retreat now!”

“I’ll have my audience with His Divinity, and I won’t leave without it.”

Constantine leaned in with his pulson. “You may petition the Prefect, Matron Seneca,” he cautioned. “For now, our orders require us to remove you by force should we have cause.”

Then, thunder rolled, “We’ll hear her.”

The Archangel bore down on them from the shadowed upper landing, His towering winged figure silhouetted and threatening against the chamber’s Gaia-saturated light. The grey electric glow of His eyes leveled the omega matriarch with an imperious look that would be too contemptible of an Aideenan male to attempt upon a woman.

It excited Seneca. She suspected the alien knew that.

Before Sebastian could managed a protest, The Archangel swept down a reproachful force upon the Templar and his fellows, the slightest psychic twinge rude enough to make plain his resolve, and He asserted aloud, “She may speak.”

Seneca raised her stance confidently. “Why are you here, Divinity?” she asked candidly.

Neither startled nor amused, The Archangel stared back at omegaMarat in silence, void of empathy and motionless.

“I suspect your unwillingness to respond is not because you wish to seem indignant, but that you simply do not know the answer,” brazened Seneca after a moment. “Tell me, do you still hear the Celestial Collective? Is their ever-present chorus of thought still so completely immersed within your own consciousness that you can only express yourself in the ‘we’?”

The Archangel remained mute; only staring, just staring.

“I believe the Celestial Collective are as still in your head as you are here. No more willing to explain themselves to you as they have been mum to Aideena-kind since we first mistook them for angels,” Seneca continued.

“You are guilty of some horribly transgression, something so reprehensible that it demanded exile, here, in this man-woman form. Normally the past, present and future are interchangeable to you, but now whatever future or past you are aware of must seem like a dream growing more and more distant with each day you’re among us. Along with it, the reason for your excommunication grows further from your reach, and whatever redemption the Collective might have require of you, too.”

Seneca paused and listened for The Archangel’s rebuttal. Again, He offered none.

The omega matriarch’s gaze narrowed on the metaterrestial’s immovable shrouded frame and she contemplated aloud, “How utterly alone you must be. Frightened. Friendless.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Seneca fired. “You’re actions today prove it. The Celestial Collective is resign to be mere observers in world, but you have the capacity to act. It’s within your power now to behave according to your conscious.”

In her excitement, Seneca advanced forward and the security barrier automatically closed toward her. She had the presence of mind to draw back, making the barrier retreat, avoiding direct contact and its disabling neuro-sensory effects.

She pleaded, “You are not alone. You are part of the world, part of Aideena. You are an actor in its future. By choosing to engage, you shape your own future out of the present and you make it possible for everyone you touch to have a stake in the future they create also. I urge you, don’t sit on the sidelines. Do what’s within your conscious to influence. Whether your actions produce charity and hope or something else, you cannot simply observe and live safe and above it all. You must choose.”

The Archangel’s eyes flared, suddenly. He turned and showed omegaMarat his winged back. Seneca sunk, summarily dismissed and uncertain she’d succeeded in driving her point. Before she could recover and start again, Michael Constantine waved his pulson.

“Your audience with Divinity’s done, Matron Seneca,” tauValez commanded. “Go, please. Now.”

Seneca returned a piercing glare. She held her ground for a long moment, sizing up the young Faithful. Then suddenly, she softened. “You’ve seen it, too, Disciple Michael,” she discerned aptly. “You’ve experienced that thing that asks us why we are here.”

Seneca turned and then paused, regarding Michael Constantine again, “The Goddess entrusted Aideena to the Faithful to prepare the way to Salvation. But, even the Faithful must choose whether they will be actors in the world or bystanders. Just like Him, you’re asking yourself that question right now.”

The House omega matriarch withdrew down the staircase under escort of John Gregory and the other Templar. Sebastian and Constantine holstered their weapons and ascended toward chambers.

Wearily, xiDuang rasped, “Now you know why I no longer ask questions.”

Michael Constantine slammed his forearm into the Templar’s chest and pushed himself hard against his superior. “You are a coward, Sebastian.”

The senior Reverend Constable angrily grabbed the younger Faithful by his breast-coat and spun him around. The Michael reacted instinctively, clasped the other’s grip and shifted his weight, and prevented himself from being thrown.

The expert counter surprised Paul Sebastian. His scornful expression melted and he grabbed Michael Constantine by the strut of the neck and pressed his lips hard upon the young man’s mouth. He held him there.

Sebastian whispered softly, “You are young, tauValez.”

“Shall that be our excuse? I am young and you’ve seen it all?”

“The truth is the world is not always what we wish it to be. This uniform and our oath remind us who we are and what we’re here to do.”

Sebastian’s dark eyes held his younger self and in those watered spheres Constantine saw the familiar memory that beckon him back to an event in every Templar’s experience that all shared. In the temple yard, standing shoulder to shouldered, the newly ordained shouted in unison, “I am Faithful.”

“What are you?”

Reverend Constable tauValez straightened and answered loudly and proudly, “I am Faithful.”

“What are you?”

“I am the Goddess’ emissary. I am Her fist that strikes and Her open hand that lifts up.”

“Damned be the enemies of the Faithful.”

The Archangel listened, although He took care to appear preoccupied elsewhere.

TO BE CONCLUDED

15. Space Climber

June 13, 2007

Faithful Book One Chapter 15
Parliamentary Templar escorted delegates back into the assembly celia.

When Paul Christian iotaToa welcomed the return of Aideena’s governing body, Consul Edmund etaSade was not among the matriarchs and their fraternal counterparts.

EtaSade availed himself of the interval between escort rounds to escape.

The Consul, his House eta liaison, and two of his most trusted senior pages stole to the underground security corridor that connected the main Parliamentary building to
neighboring government offices, where each House and Guild held their embassies. They bypassed the media and omegaMarat Sisters with their plebeian throngs massed in the Acropolis’ colonnade above.

The Templar Crime Unit distracted the corridor’s Faithful sentries, who busied tending for transport the corpse of a murdered eta teen. The Consul slipped aboard the Parliamentary’s private rail and crossed beneath the river to Port Authority and its space climber. The traversal offered the promise he desired, to convey his party to the geosynchronous Orbita Planetia station and Free Townships beyond.

EtaSade boarded the space climber, taking care to avoid being recognized by other passengers. As its plasma tether powered for another routine ascent, Edmund mused on his good fortune. His luck in evading Templar security only proved that his Guardian Ancestors still favored him. The climber rose and he thought of his matron-wife; how his exile might afford her plausible deniability and protect her from scandal, and how he might still remain First among his matriarch’s husbands.

Then, the traversal rocked violently.

The seat beneath the Consul jolted several times. His bones rattled and the hairs on his body stood on-end as the cabin filled with static electricity. Warning alarms suddenly bellowed, emergency lighting toggled to life and the space climber stalled.

“What kind of storm is this?” unhinged one of the pages. He sat closest to the small
view-port in the party’s seating area. “Clear skies there just a moment ago, clear skies, I tell you!”

“Someone’s out there–outside,” announced the other page.

Consul etaSade strained against the traversal’s fierce shaking to turn his head to see. The view-port revealed the vicious tempest outside. The space climber dropped, the storm forcing it to retreat back to Port Authority, but not before Edmund surveyed a winged apparition suspended in mid-air amid whiplashing lightening and angry ensnaring clouds.

———

Someone stirred Edmund awake.

The Consul had rested his eyes just for moment, just to summon a breath of peace. A hand or object roused him urgently and he opened his eyes, knowing he’d regret it.

Bearing down on the Consul, “Edmund etaSade, you are remanded into the custody of Faith,” informed Matthew Valentine alphaCervantes, Reverend Prefect Apostolic, commandant of the Garrison-at-Court-at-Columbia. Templar soldier-priests closed on other side of the Prefect, squaring their pulsons menacingly at the former Guild Boss.

“You dare not,” protested etaSade, scarcely believing his own audaciousness. “I am Guild Brotherhood Consul for House eta and First Husband to the Matriarch herself. I will not be subjected to your authority or anyone else.”

“Consul,” leveled Cervantes diplomatically. “What you are is implicated in a conspiracy to traffic in human labor and profiting from the forced conscription of impovished clans from your own lands to work illegally and surreptitiously elsewhere.”

“Where’s your evidence, sir? I categorically deny these slanderous allegations. Everyone knows I’ve devoted my career to bettering our labor brethren.”

“Within the Gaia-hour, my office and every media outlet on the planet received evidence detailing racketeering, forced abductions, torture, murder, and bribery consigned by you, senior member of House eta and more than a dozen Guild Bosses. Until this alleged evidence is sorted, you may consider yourself a guest of Faith and consigned to the protection of the Order of Knights Templar. May the Goddess and your Ancestors have mercy on
your soul.”

Consul etaSade felt a pain shoot from his chest and down his arm. In his weakness, he managed to issue a single word, a word Cervantes shuttered at the utterance.

As though brandishing an accusation, Edmund called out, “Medusa!”

TO BE CONTINUED

14. The Keep

June 13, 2007

Faithful Book One Chapter 14
Michael Constantine raced along the banks of the River Vitae.

He cut through the traffic of speeding aircycles and aero-crafts, swept under and over extension bridges, sailed between hydro-transports, and strafed the spiraled natural rock formations that speared Columbia’s rivers and lagoons and which generations of peoples sculpted into commercial and residential wonders. He ripped along the mega-metropolis’ high ridges and deep canyons, carved into, gardened, terraced and tiered with human urban development both ancient and contemporary.

The young Templar Faithful could barely move.

He strained against an invisible force to even turn his head, to take in the sights rushing around him or spy his vector ahead and see where he was being taken. He thundered helplessly through the air, high above Court-at-Columbia’s sprawl, the wind bombarding his back, while suspended and invisibly tethered beneath The Archangel.

They slowed and descended. Michael Constantine welcomed solid ground, as he had never thought possible. The flight left him both exhilarated and ill. He forced down the conflict and re-oriented his senses to his new surroundings. Ruined fortifications chiseled out the limestone walls deep within the lip of a cave rose from the river’s banks and greeted the soldier-priest and alien Divinity.

Constantine did not know where he was, but he knew what it was. The Archangel brought him to one of the many centuries-old fortress keeps that littered Court-at-Columbia. The keep was likely a stronghold against the marauding clans. Rival Houses once fought to claim the prized real estate that eventually grew to be the world-capital.

Over time, keeps transformed into urban centers. This one fell to the river contamination and heavy industrial pollution that ravaged many of the more poorly modernized fortifications at mid-millennium. Apparently, the city never reclaimed it. Faith’s environmental warning buoy still waded the surf, which meant the locale remained a biohazard and uninhabitable, as well as forbidden.

The Archangel’s reason for whisking them to the abandoned settlement eluded Constantine. He turned to ask, but the winged companion had already begun marching toward a crumbling path toward the keep’s darkened interior. The Templar Faithful chased after.

The keep recessed deep into the limestone cave. Ruined vacated structures gave way to narrow winding catacombs. With his pai beeping insistent warnings, Constantine worried his riot armor’s bio-filters might not protect him from contaminates.

“Why are we here?” he questioned The Archangel. “What does this place have to do with the eta boy?”

“It is what we saw,” the alien answered, using His customary royal “we”.

“You read his thoughts? You really can do that?

“We accessed the electrical discharges simulating the synapses storing memories.”

“This conclave’s unsafe and shut down for centuries. What possibly connection could that boy or etaSade have?”

The Archangel paused his gate just long enough to render, “That we desire to know. The images in the human cub’s mind mean nothing to us. They perplex us, as do the emotions that bind them. You, my Faithful, you will explain them.”

Then, Constantine saw it.

A light faintly glowed ahead. He and the Divinity advanced only a few meters further, emerged through a collapsed rampart and onto a nest of compartments surrounding a man-made hallow in the cave. What once might have been the keep’s central multi-tiered residence ring, now revealed a wrecked scattering of lantern- and torch-lit shelters.

Constantine steeled himself against nausea. The space reeked of human waste and stagnant water. The foul air’s toxicity burned tauValez’ eyes. In disbelief, he spied movement against the flickering light. Terrified, amazed stares peered out the dilapidated recesses. Wrenched and filth-riden, women, men and children spilled tentatively and malevolently into the stained luminance.

Constantine recognized many ceremonial markers and ritual fetishes displayed. “By Creation, they are House eta,” he choked out the observation. “There must be dozens of people living here.”

“Hundreds,” corrected The Archangel.

Michael Constantine never witnessed a more depraved sight. Even the social outcasts Juda-Hon in the city’s Ghetto Capricus lived better.

Far more astonishing and nightmarish to the young Faithful was the apparent lack of interest which the surroundings inspired in his winged companion. The Archangel betrayed not a flicker of empathy on his hard impassive face and in those grey glowing eyes. Rather, He turned away dismissively and His attention fixed upon an opening in the hollow where the invading river banked.

Constantine felt a hand catch his arm. He swiveled unbalanced into the tortured gaze of a slight woman.

“My Faithful, my Faithful,” she pleaded. “They’ve taken our lady. It’s not too late to bring her back.”

“Who’s taken her?”

“Those of our clan who brought us here to work, with their promises and lies,” came another voice. A one-legged man limped out of the dark toward them. His stump looked recently injured and unprofessionally attended. “They hold and beat my matron-wife to keep us in line. They take our elder daughters to force my wife from exposing this fraud and turning to her sisters back home. We dared not risked a word, not to anyone, not even to the Faithful here.”

“She needs a doctor!” the woman shrilled, overwhelmed by the disclosure she kept to herself so long. “They wouldn’t even give her that. They just came and got her, not even a Gaia-hour ago, and destroyed their watch-station.”

The woman shoved the soldier-priest with the weight of her body in the direction of the river, pointing insistently.

Ahead on the path, Constantine saw The Archangel’s silhouetted already rapidly descending toward the target and bolted after. Infected by the word he’d heard and growing rage smarting a fire within, Constantine barreled blindly and absorbed down uneven broken steps and overtook the Divinity. As he and the Archangel grew nearer, Constantine could see that the opening to the river anchored a pier, which docked a barge.

Further ahead, six dark cloaked figures speed toward the transport. Between them, they struggled to carry a long weighted bag.

“Stop! On command of Faith,” shouted Michael Constantine, rushing pass The Archangel and drawing his pulson.

The procession turned. Seeing the Templar and Divinity, the six dropped the bag and scrambled for the cover of the keep’s fallen vestige strewed about or dashed for the barge and its scurrying crew.

Suddenly, lights flared with familiar snaps of sound. Constantine broke his advance and braced as he found himself exposed to weapons’ fire. Charges strafed and exploded the ground in front of him. He took aim and fell one of the six who had attacked. Another of the assailants avenged a return salvo.

In his periphery, Constantine caught black wings stretch out. He felt a force, some invisible immense pressure, sweep from behind him and pass through his body and outward. In the same moment, the volley of weapons’ fire ruptured in an explosive dance against a transparent wall, coming within arms length of tauValez, close enough to startle him backward. The air perceivably warbled.

The Divinity brushed aside His human companion. He gestured, cupping His hands to His chest and pushing forward. Michael Constantine watched the air reverberate in a straight line, lift up the assailants and fling them with a force that thundered. The energized air continued to travel, careening into the barge, and up-siding the vessel while tossing overboard its crew and anyone in its wake.

Constantine stared, refusing to believe the scene before him. The assailants rolled feebly on the ground unable to right themselves and the crew swam for whatever would kept them from drowning.

Sirens suddenly erupted and roared, echoing alarm off the keep and the cave’s walls. Flashing red and yellow lights flooded around tauValez. Troops of armored Templar appeared up the path above, along with curious eta from the keep. Templar on aircycles blockaded any possible exit by river.

The sight of his fellow soldier-priests shook Constantine from momentary paralysis. He raced for the fallen black bag. Peeling it open, he uncovered a bloodied and battered woman slumbered in death’s embrace.

“Do we know her identity?” someone asked.

Constantine looked up. Sebastian xiDuang stared down at him, leading the troop of Templar now descending upon the battlefield. It occurred suddenly to tauValez that his pai enabled the Templar to track him and rally reinforcements.

“Check her bio-chip,” ordered the senior Templar, bothered at the necessity of reminding his partner of standard protocols.

“She is our lady,” said the woman from the keep, having pushed her way through the enclosing crowd. Her face cried, but she had no tears.

“She is my matron-wife,” anguished the one-legged man bracing himself on the keep woman’s shoulder. He knelt by the body and studied the corpse with pained reproach.

“Where are you, Nadsar? Where are you, son?” he said finally, not to Constantine, not anyone. “You should be here with your mother.”

Constantine felt a hand tap his shoulder. Sebastian signaled him to rise and tauValez came off his knees and stood. The younger soldier-priest’s face fixed a distant tortured mask. Any moment he might wrench.

“Creation isn’t suppose to let things like this happen,” Constantine insisted, struggling with the words.

Sebastian rendered a scolding stare as someone more accomplished at being dispassionate in his duties and leveled in a lecturing tone, “We don’t yet know what this is.”

Constantine slumped, wounded. Slowly he started for the path back up the keep. Sebastian stopped him. “Where’s Divinity?” he queried.

Startled,tauValez surveyed the surroundings. The Archangel was nowhere. He’d vanished.

TO BE CONTINUED

June 12, 2007

13. Edmund

May 6, 2007

Faithful Book One Chapter 13
His deputies liberated a chaise for him to recline upon. They waft Diazepam incense under his nose and brought him a soothing liquor to drink. But Edmund etaSade could not arrest his body’s nervous shutters.

“I am a hero to my people,” he muttered aloud absently. “Have I not rescued desperate millions from poverty? Brought jobs to the jobless? Have I not found a way when others have abandoned hope?”

The Guild Consul replayed over and over again the terrible horror. He and the other members of his party queued for their turn to be escorted into chambers secured for Parliamentary delegates. He saw the young eta boy step toward him out the corner of his eye. He did not know him, had not noticed him before, and dismissed him as a page for Groupo Textilis Guild or another constituency.

The taeson he pulled from beneath his clothing barely registered at first, Edmund recollected. The murderous intent only jarred him aware when those around the boy descended on him and in the struggle the taeson fired. EtaSade felt a rippling hot gust roar pass his head like an invisible thunderbolt. After that, events blur.

“That boy was from the tenement, wasn’t he,” etaSade kept repeating. “He was eta and wanted to kill his clansman. After all I’ve done, the ingratitude! I am a hero to my people!”

Edmund struggled to push Nadsar and the firing taeson from his mind. Familiar eta Guild brothers encircled him like a castle moat. His private guards were curiously absent. House eta matrons hung close, whispering among themselves and visibly panicked.

His brush with morality quickly circulated the chamber.

The Guild Consul appraised unflattering stares on the faces of the other Parliamentarians. They studied him with more righteous indignation than concern for a colleague and alarm that the security of world government had been breached.

Vultures! The contemptible lot of them relished seeing him taken down! He–a man–darned wheel popularity and power above their collective and they resented it as much as desired to share in his favor, Edmund imagined.

A deputy rushed the rampart of Guildsmen protecting the Consul. The eta boy died, he announced. Edmund, elated at the news, leapt to his feet. But then, the deputy told him about The Archangel. Suddenly weakened, etaSade grabbed the nearest body for balance.

“What did He do to the boy?”

“Nothing. He just looked at him.”

“Into his eyes?”

The well-manicured aide nodded, bewildered at the Consul’s panicked interest.

Edmund’s color reddened.

He huddled House eta matrons and his Guild brothers close, mindful of the other House and Guild Parliamentarians nearby. “Get me a transport off-world within the hour! I don’t care what kind or whom you have to pay!” he fumed.

The matrons looked at one and another. The eldest protested, “You think our matriarch, your wife, will just let you abandon the Parliamentary? At this hour? What, to frolic on a Free Township? Are you insane?”

“Damn the Parliamentary! Our matriarch would not want House eta scandaled before the whole world! Transfer my accounts to a Township and if you have an ounce of intelligence, you’d escape now just the same.”

“What do mean, you insolent little man? The spay is dead now. What has House eta to fear from this abominable woman-skinned man-thing?”

“We’re exposed! It’ll all be exposed! Leave everything and get me off-world! Now!”

TO BE CONTINUED

« Previous PageNext Page »